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edwriter



Apr 27, 2005, 3:36 PM

Post #1 of 235 (7819 views)
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MFA Workshops Can't Post

At some point several of the threads here address the topic of workshops in MFA programs. One new thread, focusing on individuals' current/completed MFA experiences, asks if we've found workshops "engaging."

That's an interesting question, but I'd like to pose another one. What kind of guidance have you received in your workshops on providing comments/critiques? In my experience (mainly in fiction) much of the success of a workshop depends on the critiquing skills of the participants. And that means instructors bear some responsibility for "teaching" the critique, too.

Thanks for your responses. It will be especially interesting to see if there are patterns and differences depending on genre here.

Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



(This post was edited by motet on Jun 1, 2006, 9:42 PM)


rooblue


Apr 27, 2005, 3:59 PM

Post #2 of 235 (7807 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi, Erika.
There's an entire section in the Warren Wilson handbook devoted to workshop behavior. It goes well beyond the basics of etiquette and respect for one's fellow writers, proposing that the workshop's main task is to understand the intention of the work, and then comment on how the work does or does not fulfill that intent. I've been at WW for a year now, and no one in any of my workshops has ever done a flamer on a story. Even when a story was clearly in its early drafts, and still in need of a lot of work, people refrained from slicing it, or its creator, into bits.Criticism tends to take the form of "I was confused by" or "I wasn't clear on" rather than what an individual liked or did not like. Needless to say this has not been the case in every workshop that I've been in.

Workshop is not my favorite part of residency, by any means, but I don't dread it like I did before I came to WW. Pongo said somewhere else on this board that the main point of workshop is to teach critiquing skills, not to make an individual story that much better, and I agree with that. We all come to workshop with such different sensibilities, and A's comments on B's story might be perfect for the same story if A were to write it. It's impossible to eliminate this tendency completely, but focusing on the writer's intent as opposed to one's own leanings does help quite a bit.

The fac at WW are all different in workshop -- some are laid back, some participate more -- but I don't think they'd allow the kind of pack-mentality bloodletting that I've personally experienced in other places. I'm actually glad I went through it, once. I can say with 100 percent certainty that it did not make me a better writer.


Kaytie
Kaytie M. Lee

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Apr 27, 2005, 6:10 PM

Post #3 of 235 (7781 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi, Erika, nice to see you on here.

The best workshop experiences I had were the ones where the instructor gave the class structure before anyone brought work in. For example, in my favorite workshop, the author was not allowed to speak at all, and the rest of us discussed the piece, talked about what worked and what didn't for each of us, and the instructor asked leading questions where necessary. Rarely was there complete agreement; never was there the kind of slice-and-dice meant to attack the writer. It was just like discussing literature in a lit class, but even more, gave the author insight as to how editors might read it. We can't follow our work to explain it to everyone, so better make it strong enough to stand on its own.

The worst kind of workshop was the free-for-all kind, where the instructor waited for everyone else to say their piece before coming down from on high with the "right" take. But even then, the more experienced students tended to set the tone.

More often a workshop was made unpleasant by the inability of a participant to accept that other students might have valid criticism. If you can't take difference of opinion without getting defensive, you probably ought to stay away from workshops, right? This is not something an instructor has complete control over, but it's worth the instructor's time to say something about how to respond to criticism upfront.


Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008


edwriter



Apr 27, 2005, 6:36 PM

Post #4 of 235 (7776 views)
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Re: Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for those responses, and it's nice to catch up with you here, too, Kaytie!

It's a fine line, or something of a dilemma, isn't it? It's important to accept valid criticism, and yet it seems that a number of workshops/instructors don't necessarily take steps to ensure that the criticism will be, in fact, valid (so one ends up, for example, with many of the aforementioned "I like this"/"I don't like this" comments).

And it can be hard to listen to (or read) "invalid criticism." It's understandable, I think, for a writer to become "defensive" in such instances. The point about teaching writers how to respond to criticism is an excellent one--I just think that when faced with substandard critiques a writer has a right (no pun intended) to be annoyed, especially given the time, money, and everything else that has gone into the workshop.

Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



Kaytie
Kaytie M. Lee

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Apr 27, 2005, 8:05 PM

Post #5 of 235 (7762 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Ah, that's a different take than what I was talking about.

If I understand correctly, you're saying that if the criticism isn't of the informed variety, the author has a right to be annoyed/angry because of the wasted time and money. I totally agree with you on that point, and yes, I believe it's the instructor's responsibility to either ask for more from the participants or ask leading questions that will spark a meaningful critique of the work on deck. It's in the instructor's best interest to talk about how to critique, since one assumes the instructor wants to cultivate an environment that gets writers coming back for more.

I was speaking from the other end, when participants have taken the time to give thoughtful responses to a work (often both positive and constructive) and the author is too defensive to listen politely, even if they plan to disregard everything. In one instance, every time an opinion was expressed, this student would argue the point as if by defending it she could negate the opinion. It went beyond artistic choice--she wanted only approval for what she was doing, and refused to see that she might have weaknesses--and consequently never heard when people said they enjoyed her work. (She was quite happy to point out what wasn't working in other people's writing, of course.) When the instructor gave her some suggestions on how to use the criticism she was getting, she stopped bringing work to class for the rest of the workshop.


Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008


lillyl


Apr 27, 2005, 10:03 PM

Post #6 of 235 (7751 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

<i>What kind of guidance have you received in your workshops on providing comments/critiques? In my experience (mainly in fiction) much of the success of a workshop depends on the critiquing skills of the participants. And that means instructors bear some responsibility for "teaching" the critique, too.</i>

I think most graduate-level workshops expect that their students will have had a few workshops already & will know what sorts of things one discusses in workshop. This is usually a good assumption, but in my instance I didn't have workshop before I started grad school, so I was a bit in the dark.




Amethyst


Apr 27, 2005, 10:43 PM

Post #7 of 235 (7743 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I have been in a number of different types of workshops over the years. I personally am not a fan of the rule about the author not being able to comment on his/her work. In one workshop I took, the person being critiqued got to say whatever he or she wanted at the beginning of the class. For instance, the writer might discuss what he or she was trying to achieve in a certain section, why he or she made specific choices, whether something about the piece was frustrating as it was being worked on, etc. I think knowing those things ahead of time, before one begins commenting on the work, can be very helpful. I don't think I agree that the primary purpose of the workshop is to teach critiquing skills--I think that is one purpose, but helping others to see their work through another, different set of eyes is also important and extremely useful, even if the workshop's suggestions are not ultimately used to revise the work. There have been a few times when I have been completely floored by what my classmates, or the teacher, said about something I had written.


edwriter



Apr 28, 2005, 10:23 AM

Post #8 of 235 (7713 views)
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Re: Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Kaytie, thanks for that clarification!

And thanks to the others for the responses.

I'd agree that teaching the critique is not the only, but is an important part of the workshop. Especially for those writers who plan to go on and teach writing, it's absolutely essential to learn how to respond constructively to other people's work.

And yes, I'd certainly agree that an overall strength of the workshop would appear to be the opportunity to get other people's reactions to one's work. But don't we then return to a question about the quality of those reactions?

I've frankly never heard of a writer speaking in class before a critique session. Did that ever have a "silencing" affect on the group?

But it does remind me of something I use in my own workshops: a self-assessment sheet. I first picked this up in a program I did when I was in graduate school in another field (the program's purpose was to help instructors in all disciplines respond to student writing more effectively).

I've adapted the sheets to use in my own creative writing workshops. They include three questions and I ask students to complete them and attach them to their manuscripts when they distribute them to the class. Some students choose to staple them to the front of the manuscript, and some to the back, and I think that choice may have repercussions. I now say so in class, too.

Anyway, the sheet first asks for the basics (student's name, ms title, date the ms will be critiqued). The three questions follow:

1) One aspect of this ms I'm especially proud of is....

2) If I had more time to work on this ms I would.....

3) One question/issue about the ms I'd like to have addressed in comments/critiques is.....


It may seem a little elementary, but I like the sheet because it prompts the writer him/herself to think about what may be working as well as what may need some work before the piece even gets to class discussion. And I think it's helped make the critiques at least a little more useful.


Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



pongo
Buy this book!

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Apr 28, 2005, 11:56 AM

Post #9 of 235 (7697 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I have occasionally seen writers speak before their work was discussed (not in MFA workshops, but in others). It happens usually when the author needs specific information about the work; for example, I once brought a section of a novel to a workshop needing to know if it was funny. I also got some good comments on other aspects, but I told them up front that mostly I just needed to see if they laughed.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Amethyst


Apr 28, 2005, 3:07 PM

Post #10 of 235 (7682 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I never found that the other students were silenced if the author being critiqued was allowed to speak first. Usually, the author's comments were along the lines of the questions you ask your students to answer on the worksheet you mentioned. I found that most people appreciated hearing what other people had to say beforehand--it actually helped to get the discussion going, because everyone had a point of departure. As a writer, I can also say that being allowed to speak first helped me to hear the other people's comments more openly. So often, when I brought something in to be critiqued, I had a strong feeling that certain things weren't working, but I wasn't sure how to change them. Being able to say, for instance, "I am not happy with the ending of this poem--please give me suggestions on how I might develop it" was great, because I didn't have to sit there silently for ages and ages while people discussed how the ending was weak, thinking in my head the whole time, "I know that already." Because the problem area had already been acknowledged, people could move right along to brainstorming about ways to rethink the ending, and I was able to relax and listen.


edwriter



Apr 28, 2005, 3:24 PM

Post #11 of 235 (7678 views)
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Re: [Amethyst] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I never found that the other students were silenced if the author being critiqued was allowed to speak first. Usually, the author's comments were along the lines of the questions you ask your students to answer on the worksheet you mentioned. I found that most people appreciated hearing what other people had to say beforehand--it actually helped to get the discussion going, because everyone had a point of departure. As a writer, I can also say that being allowed to speak first helped me to hear the other people's comments more openly. So often, when I brought something in to be critiqued, I had a strong feeling that certain things weren't working, but I wasn't sure how to change them. Being able to say, for instance, "I am not happy with the ending of this poem--please give me suggestions on how I might develop it" was great, because I didn't have to sit there silently for ages and ages while people discussed how the ending was weak, thinking in my head the whole time, "I know that already." Because the problem area had already been acknowledged, people could move right along to brainstorming about ways to rethink the ending, and I was able to relax and listen.



That sounds very helpful, then. I suppose it brings up another question (one that's obviously open to everyone). Have the critiques been essentially limited to spoken comments in the workshop, or have you also written up narrative comments to return to each writer with the ms? Obviously online workshopping would seem to require the latter. What are everyone's thoughts about spoken and written critiques?

Thanks,
Erika


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



taizhu


Apr 28, 2005, 4:37 PM

Post #12 of 235 (7667 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe that both spoken and written critiques are necessary to have a well rounded critique of one's work. That has been the process for most of my workshops. In general, all of my workshops have been excellent. No nitpicking, attacking, sniping etc.

In general, I find that the spoken critiques can be swayed by the tenor of the discussion. People rathole on issues, minor things can become major things and vice versa. Spoken critiques are good at fleshing out major hiccups that many people find in the writing--inconsistencies, plot problems, etc.

I prefer it when the author is not permitted to say anything. As the writer, I find it better that the workshop reacts to what I have written rather than what I was trying to do. I use the comments to get a sense of whether or not I accomplished my goals for the story. I address my follow-up questions/comments accordingly.

I find written critiques valuable because you get a much better feel of what people actually think about your work. People are generally more clear when they write about what works/does not work in a story.


willbell
Will

Apr 28, 2005, 4:43 PM

Post #13 of 235 (7666 views)
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Re: [taizhu] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

You've probably all heard or read this, but I thought I'd provide a link...for a laugh.

Billy Collins
Workshop

http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/...e/record.asp?id=3990


mingram
Mike Ingram

Apr 28, 2005, 4:55 PM

Post #14 of 235 (7663 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

In my program we get both: written comments (on the manuscript as well as a letter from each of the workshop participants) and in-class comments (usually an hour or so of discussion, sometimes a little more).

The writer is put in the "cone of silence," so to speak, during the workshop, but is then allowed to ask questions at the end of the process. One potential problem with allowing the writer to speak beforehand is that the writer may be tempted to explain his or her story or put it into some sort of context (i.e., "I was trying to do..."). Which is, of course, not an opportunity a writer will ever have when his or her work is read elsewhere. The workshop teachers here are very clear that what we're critiquing is the story itself -- what's on the page -- not the writer's intentions, or the writer personally, etc. "It's about what's on the page. It's not about our souls," as Frank Conroy used to say.

Of course there are times when everyone in workshop pounces on something (the ending, a particular bit of dialogue, whatever) that the writer already knows is weak work. But hopefully they're also trying to get at the question of Why it's weak, and what can be done to improve it. I can see the appeal of speaking beforehand, but at the same time I think it's best to get critiques that aren't colored by the writer's conception of his or her own story.

Mike


edwriter



Apr 28, 2005, 6:01 PM

Post #15 of 235 (7654 views)
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Re: [willbell] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
You've probably all heard or read this, but I thought I'd provide a link...for a laugh.

Billy Collins
Workshop

http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/...e/record.asp?id=3990


Thanks so much for posting this! I hadn't seen it yet. Really funny.

Best,
Erika


Kaytie
Kaytie M. Lee

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Apr 28, 2005, 8:58 PM

Post #16 of 235 (7637 views)
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Re: [mingram] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

"It's about what's on the page..."

Exactly. Great quote.

In some workshops I got a written statement from peers and the instructor, others not. Some people would mark up their copies of my selection with notes, others would not. I appreciated getting written comments because then I didn't have to take nearly as many notes--I could listen and watch people speak--body language telling me as much as their words. And I prefer workshops where nitpicking is left in the written comments and the discussion is about story or characterization, what's working and what isn't working. Correcting facts during workshop is a time-waster.

I was never in a workshop where participants spoke before the discussion of a piece. To me, the idea was to produce work on my own to the best of my ability, and then see reactions to it--where I missed, where I succeeded. Other people brought first drafts and the class was left wondering what to say beyond basic mechanics.

I wonder how the opportunity to say something about it would have affected what I brought to workshop?

I also didn't get many in-class exercises, either. (For which I was grateful, but now I wonder if I missed something.)


Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008


emilydixieson


Apr 29, 2005, 12:17 PM

Post #17 of 235 (7610 views)
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Re: [Kaytie] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I've enjoyed this discussion, complete with a Billy Collins floorshow! But, I am wondering: what do y'all find that you do with the critiques? What do you actually do with all this "helpful commentary?"

I hope you don't mind the question as opposed to a comment....


edwriter



Apr 29, 2005, 3:24 PM

Post #18 of 235 (7595 views)
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Re: [emilydixieson] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I've enjoyed this discussion, complete with a Billy Collins floorshow! But, I am wondering: what do y'all find that you do with the critiques? What do you actually do with all this "helpful commentary?"

I hope you don't mind the question as opposed to a comment....

Well, the helpful critiques--those that really do focus on the manuscript and its intent and point out inconsistencies, confusions, and more--really help me revise. I take those critiques and I study them and really evaluate each suggestion the critiquer makes and often make the change, adding or deleting or reconceptualizing, accordingly.

But on a mechanical level, one way to handle a batch of critiques is to take a clean copy of the ms and to list all the comments/points on the appropriate segments/pages of the new copy. This can be pretty interesting because one can find, for example, that x number of people cite one thing as working well and y number of people say the same thing is not working at all.


Best,
Erika


pongo
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Apr 29, 2005, 4:02 PM

Post #19 of 235 (7589 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Another benefit of critiques is that you can use your critiquing skills on your own work, and on anything you read, in order to improve your own craft. I even learn much about writing from grading freshman papers (or at least from trying to explain to them why what they have tried doesn't work).

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


mingram
Mike Ingram

Apr 29, 2005, 4:33 PM

Post #20 of 235 (7585 views)
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Re: [pongo] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

It's a good question, actually -- because for some people the workshop process can be a little debilitating. Suddenly you have the voices of 8-10 people in your head trying to tell you what to do. Of course there are pieces of good advice in the mix, and sometimes there's even a consensus that something doesn't make sense, or is unclear. But you'll also find that some people just don't like a particular type of story, and their comments are really an attempt to turn your story into the kind of story they'd find more palatable (not that they're doing this maliciously, or even consciously).

So I think one of the writer's main challenges is to weed through comments and make judgments about which ones seem right and which ones don't. As valuable as it is to get lots of feedback, writing isn't an art that's generally best done by consensus. Ultimately, it's your story and you need to follow your own judgments and gut feelings about it. Hopefully, one thing workshop does is hone those judgments and make you a better reader of your own work.

I tend to take notes while people are talking during workshop, then I'll go home and read through the letters. Then I'll let the story sit for a while. When I go back to the story, I usually find that the helpful comments are informing my revisions because I've internalized them to some degree.

Mike


emilydixieson


Apr 29, 2005, 4:58 PM

Post #21 of 235 (7582 views)
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Re: [mingram] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Well well well: I certainly appreciate this response. Working in poetry, I find I take a little pile away from the workshop (sometimes three little piles for three little poems) and just don't know how to handle the stack! So many comments for so few words... so much confusion about that compact thought.

I wish I had more room for my pile system, a long hallway for piles of projects and thoughts.

But, it's not just the pile system that discourages me from revising. My lack of knowledge and confidence falls prey to inspiration, which I cannot monitor or predict or schedule.

I wish in workshops I were offered some direction over "go home now and write." On revision, on the use of the material... hum?


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Apr 29, 2005, 6:15 PM

Post #22 of 235 (7573 views)
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Re: [emilydixieson] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, revision is a whole other kettle of bouillabaisse. Part of the trick there is to develop confidence in your critics -- and that isn't just trusting what people say about your work but knowing that you can trust it. If one person says, "Too many adjectives," you need to know if that person just hates adjectives or really has an idea for your poem.

Most revision tricks involve ways of finding a new persepective on the work. One that I like involves cutting it up into pieces (line by line for poems, sentence by sentence for prose) and tossing it on the floor, then picking up each piece and considering it alone.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


libbyagain


May 2, 2005, 11:51 AM

Post #23 of 235 (7524 views)
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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm a fiction writer and without question my favorite form of workshop reponse occurs when respondents give me running commentaries of their reactions/what they're thinking, in margins. "I'm intrigued by this. . . " "I'm wondering whether this bloody glove means we'll be meeting O.J. soon. . . " "I'm STILL wondering where O.J. is. . . ": that kind of thing really lets me know what readers are thinking, when, and maybe even why. I'm able, that-a-way, also to distinguish between types of readers: those who "get" me, those who "don,'t" whether I care.

In my experience (conferences only) I'd say that about 1/2 of workshop group members do conscientious jobs. 1/4 do okay jobs. 1/6 or so are really careless, sloppy. . . ought not be there in the first place. I couldn't BELIEVE there were some-such, even at some "prestigious" conferences I attended. . .

I think that if respondents do enough work in advance on the ms'es, then the session itself seems to go well. I'm usually very relieved when the leader chimes in, to amplify, clarify, solidify, connect. . . In my creative writing classes I also ask for shows of hands ("How many of you thought what Sharon did. . . that O.J. was about the enter the room? How many of you expected someone else?") I like sketching out/having sketched out for me a "where is the story now," kind of thing. I think class concensus, imaginative fillings-in-of-blanks, even arguments ("OJ?? No WAY!! Weren't you READING at the bottom of p. 2?) can be very inspiring for a writer, and emphasize the fact that it's the PIECE we're talking about. . . NOT the person.

fwiw.

Elizabeth


Kaytie
Kaytie M. Lee

e-mail user

May 2, 2005, 8:47 PM

Post #24 of 235 (7487 views)
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Re: [emilydixieson] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I've enjoyed this discussion, complete with a Billy Collins floorshow! But, I am wondering: what do y'all find that you do with the critiques? What do you actually do with all this "helpful commentary?"


Like edwriter and others above, I take the stack of comments and transfer them all onto one master. Then I wait a few days (or longer) and revisit the manuscript with the comments, a sort of "workshop revision." I only incorporated what I thought worked.

I save the master in a file cabinet with the teacher's copy for posterity, or because I have pack-ratism in my genes. And for some teachers, you want to keep their words.

After I took the last workshop from my program, I took out all of those masters and read through them. I could see the evolution of my work, and see what comments I still got after all that work. It was an enlightening weekend, let me tell you.

And since it's related, I save new versions of my manuscripts on my computer every time I change them so that I can always go back to an original or earlier draft. I also back up to another computer and upload to a private site on the internet, just in case...


Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008

(This post was edited by Kaytie on May 2, 2005, 8:48 PM)


darredet
Darren A. Deth


May 3, 2005, 3:44 AM

Post #25 of 235 (7467 views)
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Re: [Kaytie] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

I have only had my material workshoped twice in an academic setting, both of which were at a Writers conference. What I found useful was that each person read a paragraph or two of the story being workshopped prior to anyone offering criticism. This assisted us in getting into the mood of the piece. There were roughly 14 people in the first workshop and only eight in the second. The one with eight worked much better, and a clearer idea of what needed to be done. That being said, the workshop comments did not cover everything I needed to get the manuscript to where it needs to be. I set it aside for a couple of days after the conference, selected what comments I thought were worth addressing, which was most of them, and sent the revision in as part of my portfolio for Graduate credits.

I am also in a Writers group that meets every other week. There are only five of us in it, two of whom have been published. I get a piece workshopped every time I bring something in, which is most of the time. I have not found this group to be nearly as effective because it seems to focus more on line editing rather than the intent of the piece. Admittingly, I find myself falling into the same trap with this group, which I am not proud of, the main reason being I can't stand the material being submitted. Everyone is fixated on writing murder mysteries. That's a hurdle I have to overcome.

In any event, I'm hoping the workshops in my MFA program will foster the growth I experieced at the conferences, and enable me to bring my Writers group up to the next level, or perhaps start another one with similiar desire for improvement.

Darren


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 14, 2006, 4:37 PM

Post #26 of 235 (3309 views)
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MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course it depends on the program, but I was wondering - are MFA workshops pretty high level in general? Is it group therapy or pretty harsh and critical? Professional and constructive, or personal and subjective (like just an emotional response)? Is there a big disparity between the more experienced students and the less? Do people support each other's work? Or is it very competitive? Is it easy to make friends? Is there a lot of hooking up among students (I saw it mentioned somewhere else on the board)?

I find myself wondering about this. How do other people feel about workshop?

Do you guys get nervous? Mad (when someone criticizes your work, and you don't agree with it)? Or do you just welcome whatever anyone has to say? Of course in classes I act professional and grateful for any advice, but I wonder if people are secretly indignant about some of their classmates' comments, and if they feel like there's strong bias among students, or that groups of students support each other's work and rip another person apart for no good reason.

I guess I am just curious about emotional responses to workshop.


franz

e-mail user

Mar 14, 2006, 4:53 PM

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Re: [rapunzel1983] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I say bring to the table the feelings you'd like to see in return. I'm part of a writing circle in Portland right now and we all try to be considerate of each others' work. Sometimes somebody puts up a story that is really terrible (including me) and sometimes somebody puts up an absolutely wonderful story. I really believe there is no room in the workshop environment to rip into somebody. Criticism can always be given constructively. Even then it's going to hurt. Sometimes I feel battered after one of my stories goes up, but usually I agree with the criticism, and even if I don't, I still end up thinking about it in a constructive way. Nobody tries to hurt my feelings, though it may happen inadvertently sometimes. Criticism is going to hurt enough without having additional barbs. I know I'm pretty critical of other work, but I try to couch my criticisms in what I liked about the story first. I tend to be harsher in my comments on the page and more positive when in discussion.
Here's something ironic that I've often noticed-- people tend to be gentler on work that's not as good and particularly harsh on good work-- I guess it's like going for a jog versus Olympic training. If you want to get it to the top level, you've got to get a little beaten up. I remember taking in one story that I thought was pretty good and it was absolutely pummeled. Actually, it really deserved the punishment. I've since set it aside, perhaps for good.

But this is what I want to see out of a workshop and this is what I hope I bring to the table-- honest criticism, respect, an intention to understand the author's style and goals, and constructive phrasing of criticism. (Plus hopefully lots of good friends.) I hope I never hear the words: "hate", "shit", "sucks" in a workshop.
My dad got ripped a lot when he was in the Iowa workshop in the 70's. A lot of people didn't like his poetry, but it really hurt his feelings and didn't help his poetry. It made him more defensive and sensitive about his work. However, I love his poetry (but then he's my dad and I don't know anything about poetry). It's a matter of opinion, really. (btw, I'm not endorsing the myth that Iowa is a cutthroat place for workshoppers-- that can happen anywhere.)


Franz Knupfer, author of short stories and novels


maanprophet


Mar 14, 2006, 4:54 PM

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  I was once in an intensive writers' workshop where we had to both line- and holistically edit each others' personal essays each week. The nature of the class was very communal as we also graded each other (the professor acted as a mediator of sorts).

Despite the intimate nature of the program and the bonds created (and this class, surprisingly, had no cliques or outcasts), some people just can't agree on style. Or, rather, no matter how well you write, you're not going to win over everyone no matter how well you write.

My advice is to learn whose opinions you value the most and whose criticisms make sense to you, and work with them as much as possible.

Cheers, --Avimaan


(This post was edited by maanprophet on Mar 14, 2006, 5:43 PM)


poetastin


Mar 14, 2006, 6:13 PM

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An Irvine student on his blog described his first workshop as a mixed bag--stories that were scary good all the way down to average undergad workshop quality.

People in my undergrad classes would reject a work based solely on its (a)moral content; I just hope I don't encounter that problem again. It's a terrible waste of time.


Windiciti



Mar 14, 2006, 6:26 PM

Post #30 of 235 (3235 views)
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Re: [maanprophet] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Yeah, Rapunzel. I definitely agree with him about taking the criticism seriously, but perhaps with a grain of salt.
I always listen very carefully and take notes of what people say. However, in time, I have learned to separate the really picayunne or ignorant comments, about a culture people may not know or understand for example, from the REALLY helpful.
My peers' comments and the prof's have often helped me to improve a story greatly.
It is also true that when something is quite bad, people are very gentle!


viviandarkbloom


Mar 14, 2006, 9:42 PM

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sibyline


Mar 15, 2006, 12:25 AM

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Re: [viviandarkbloom] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

For people just starting out, I think being supportive and kind is important, but I feel that at our level, courtesy runs the danger of getting in the way. If you think about it, an editor or agent isn't going to be nice to you about your work if it's flawed. I would rather know what people have problems with in workshop than be blindsided when I actually try to put it out in the world. The only way that can happen is if I don't get defensive and separate my personal feelings from my work.

This isn't to say that I'm a robot. But I make it a point never to defend myself or otherwise visibly feel slighted in workshop, however damning or catty or slamming someone's comments are. I try to hear what the person has to say, think about it in relationship to my own work, and then either ignore it or take it into account. I don't think anyone has a responsibility for my feelings in workshop. And I tell people this. I would rather risk crying my heart out because of what someone says than risk someone preventing themselves from saying how they really feel about what I've written. Because in the end, the latter is what's going to improve my work, which is what's going to make me happy in the long run.

As a result, I'm the one in workshop who encourages people to only say nice things when they mean it (i.e. you don't have to try to find something nice to say; you can say bad things exclusively if that's the major impression you get). I am also typically more critical of my work than anyone else in workshop.

As a workshopper, I say things diplomatically but I don't try to find something I like if my overall impression of something is negative. I also very much am willing to say harsh things if I feel like the other person wouldn't get the message unless I put it in strong terms. This doesn't make me the most popular person in workshop, but I feel like my approach also makes me more reliable.

I recognize that my approach isn't for everyone, but I don't feel that emotions have a role in workshop. I feel like being able to separate yourself from your work is a key part of being in our profession, and it's important for students at the graduate level to be able to do that.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 15, 2006, 8:01 AM

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Writing is personal, so workshops inevitably get emotional sometimes. I've seen too many tears in workshop, in my MFA program and elsewhere. Two of the better workshop leaders I've had each had a simple rule that helped keep the workshop civil and constructive.

One teacher - the late Frank Conroy - asked students to refer to the story and not the author. That sounds so simple but you'd be surprised at how much it can help, just to say "I was uncomfortable with this passage" instead of "I didn't like what she did with this passage." It's also surprisingly difficult to do; you have to monitor yourself.

A teacher in my MFA program, Alice Mattison, asks students to avoid talking about the work in the past tense. So we say "this dialogue is feeling slow to me" or "this passage might want to speed up in the next draft" instead of "the dialogue was too slow." That gives the author faith that she can fix it rather than sending the message that the work is finished and "you screwed up."

It's little things like this, I think, that make a difference. Workshop in general, though, is hard. I've had a few decent workshops but being almost finished with my MFA I feel like I'm about over them, and consequently my emotion level in them has dropped. You can only get so far listening to the opinions of other writers who may be more in the dark than you are, or who may not have invested much time or effort into reading your work. At some point you need plain old instruction and mentorship from an expert. I think what you get in an MFA program that's more valuable than workshops is a lasting connection with a small circle of writers, either faculty or fellow students or both, whom you trust as readers and who get your work. If you're lucky you take that away as your permanent workshop.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 27, 2006, 2:05 AM

Post #34 of 235 (3054 views)
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There was a discussion somewhere about emotions and workshop. I can't find it, but the topic seems to fit this thread anyhow.

I've been thinking about why I have some discomfort with workshop--about why, after 7 creative writing classes and running some discussions myself, I still feel uneasy. Maybe I'm a lot less intellectual and analytical than I had thought. For me, writing is so much about gut feeling and entertainment, rather satisfying a certain rubric or criteria--running through a list of typical workshop questions. If I really like a piece, I might be willing to overlook ALL it's flaws, even terrible flaws. If I don't like a piece, no amount of nipping and tucking is really going to do it. You either love or don't love.

I had a prof once who believed in mostly discussing what was good in your work. He didn't bring up anything which did NOT excite him. Thus, I learned that everything which was not discussed was not particularly original because if it was, it would have been mentioned. Our talks would last about fifteen minutes (hence the goal was to make the talks last more than fifteen minutes--twenty or thirty and for all those minutes to be filled with compliments, strong reactions to something memorable; if there was nothing memorable, he would say nothing). And somehow it was so much more effective than a line by line critique. In fact, when I got a line by line critique, I would usually just have the desire to erase it all and start over again.

Of course there has to be some negativity, some critique, but I guess I don't really respond to doubt very well. Obviously I can take it; i'm not stupid; I know the writing world is not all touchy feely and nice. But for me, writing is about faith, about living in a dream-world you create and trying to share that world with others. Too much nit-picking, too much criticism just drags me back into the word-ness of the text when what I want to do is feel like I'm living with and in the characters viscerally. Doubt for me is associated with the text as a damn text, just words on a page. When someone responds in an excited or emotional fashion, I feel like the work has come alive, and I can live with it a bit.


LookUp


Mar 27, 2006, 12:28 PM

Post #35 of 235 (3000 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

   

As a former MFA student, I wanted to add a few little bits of information to this conversation. First, read the first part of Madison Smart Bell's book called _Narrative Design_. I don't remember whether it's in the introduction or the first chapter, but he has a really interesting thing in there about both the good parts and bad parts of participating in a workshop. A must read.

Also, I think it's important to remember that not everyone in workshop will say something useful, but part of the goal of this sort of critique is to train peoples' critical eyes so that they can turn them on their own work. This means that sometimes people will say stuff about your work that doesn't apply. Sometimes you will say stuff that doesn't apply. This is unfortunate, but just how it is. A friend of mine who went to Iowa said that an instructor told him that if you can use 10% of what gets said in class, then that was a really good workshop.

One other thing to read is this:

http://all-story.com/...tory&story_id=54

It's a funny and sad story about what the MFA program can be like. The author went where I went. Having gotten out of an MFA, I think it's funny (it's important to keep your sense of humor) but don't let it freak you out or anything.

My over-all advice on critiquing is to be as specific and honest as possible while also being kind. It's one thing to think a story is bad, it's another to artfully express where it went wrong. This is an art in itself, but it's something you pick up pretty quickly if you work at it. Remember that all first (and sometimes fifth) drafts have holes in them, and that it isn't something to hold against people. It's important to try to maintain a non threatening atmosphere. How you approach critique will have everything to do with the overall class dynamic. People pick up other people's cues and if someone is snarky, that often starts the ball rolling down the hill.

The MFA is really a mixed bag. Sometimes people will disagree and maybe sometimes people will get angry. You will probably always feel really nervous before your own workshop. Also, though, a lot of times you'll laugh and make friends and walk away thinking "Wow! That wasn't so bad!" I remember being really intimidated before I got to my program, and then feeling fine in a class or two. I think that's probably how it works for most people.


willbell
Will

Mar 27, 2006, 1:46 PM

Post #36 of 235 (2968 views)
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Just as a funny addition, Billy Collins' poem "Workshop" sums up my undergraduate experience.

It can be found here..
http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/...e/record.asp?id=3990


viviandarkbloom


Mar 27, 2006, 2:42 PM

Post #37 of 235 (2936 views)
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Re: [willbell] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Also read Lorrie Moore's "How To Become a Writer."


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 27, 2006, 3:20 PM

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I have to say, I've heard some bad things about the competative atmosphere of MFA programs. Specially from a MFA teacher at DC area school who told me there is even a sence of competition between the students and faculty... which I guess make sense, they are all peers pretty much.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 27, 2006, 4:15 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I kind of agree with Clench Million. I think at the end of the day...... I don't really believe that all writers in workshop are out there to help each other. Obviously, you don't want to sound competitive or dumb, so you say intelligent things about other people's manuscripts, and sometimes you've been through the same difficulty yourself and want to help others--but at MFA programs, there are often prizes and contests to compete for, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the tension in my undergrad workshop. I'm not trying to be immature and annoying; I'm just recognizing this essential element of human nature.

My thesis advisor actually said he felt that poets banded together more than fiction writers.

About criticism, here are the ways I see it:

1. You can be blunt, say exactly what you feel.
2. You can be kind, but then this might be construed as patronizing--it's almost impossible not to sound patronizing when you tone down your words to avoid hurting someone's feelings. And what about when the writer recognizes the tinge of Im-not-being-entirely-honest-because-I-don't-want-to-hurt-your-feelings note in your words and voice. That's even worse! Hell is recognizing what others think of you. Bluntness is almost better, is better. I hate it when I turn in something, realize it was bad, and then hear someone else in workshop talk about my work with a smug, know-it-all tone. I can just hear them saying in their heads: "Great, don't have to worry about Rapunzel for that upcoming contest... this sucks."
You have to admit that you would seriously dislike someone if he said this to you:
"No offense but...."
"I'm telling you this because I want to help you."
"I'm trying to think of a way to put this...."

I don't know. I don't like bluntness either. I find it irritating--like, oh, that person didn't even take the time to filter his personal thoughts. We have politeness in this world for a reason.

But then there are some miraculous people (I've only met 2 in my whole life, in all 7 classes I've been in), who don't do #1 or #2. People who are mature and kind, but not smug and self-righteous and deluded about themselves and their judgment. But most people, no matter how old they are, just can't be constructive. Most people are just really prejudiced deep down inside--about subject matter, style, etc. They always betray some kind of bias they cannot be reasoned out of. It's very tough to be open-minded; nearly impossible.

I guess the ideal workshop would be..... 5 people who really respect each other as artists and are willing to be completely honest. But i guess, they would select each other first. In too many classes, there are some writers who just feel that they are inherently more talented than others. not more experienced or better published or older--just endowed with that magical "it" factor. I dated a guy in my workshop once, and was surprised to find that he considered it impossible for other people to write as well as he did. impossible. he had formed a judgment just like that! it's suprising the number of people who just think they are inherently better, born better. Even if I see the worst writing i've ever seen in my life, I still give the artist the benefit of the doubt. i just do.

I don't have any answers. I guess workshop is good in the sense that it brings many people together just to TALK, DISCUSS. If people are so inherently biased, then maybe it's better to just have a bunch of conflicting opinions all at once, rather than one authoritative prof with thumbs up or down.


edwriter



Mar 27, 2006, 5:26 PM

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Re: [LookUp] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the link to Margo Rabb's story, LookUp.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



LookUp


Mar 27, 2006, 8:35 PM

Post #41 of 235 (2842 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with clinch too, there is often a competitive atmosphere. And I think it's possible to be kind without being condescending, although you have to keep your own ego in check to do this. To be clear -- I don't mean be insincere or over-praise the tiniest thing done well. I mean that there's a difference between saying, in a neutral voice, "You know, the story stopped working here and this is why. It might have worked better if --" and saying "This story just sucks. I was bored and you're hopeless." And yeah, there's a competitive atmosphere in any workshop, especially when you're competing for prizes and that does creep in, but it's worth it to try not to make it worse. A friend of mine once described his workshop as a "shark's nest." I've been in workshops that were pretty sharky and in workshops that were respectful of the writer, no matter how rough the story. I think you get the same amount of critique in both (if they're both done well) and the second one makes you not want to drink before class. One thing an instructor once told me, on the topic of networking, was: in ten years, many of you will have books out. It's worth it to be good to the people around you now.

I think this makes sense.

On the other hand, I'm a few years removed and my response was more based on how I try to run workshops as an instructor, so maybe my memory is off...


Windiciti



Mar 27, 2006, 9:09 PM

Post #42 of 235 (2824 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Rapunzel,
I think you are agonizing way too much over the workshops.
Sometimes they are a mixed bag, but you ALWAYS learn something about how to improve your writing, how other people write in ways you admire, and how to be truthful w/o being hurtful or patronizing. I've taken about six myself, each for 6 weeks.

You sound very intelligent, but young---no, I'm not being patronizing. From what I recall you've been accepted at some very fine schools, so enjoy the moments before you make the final choice. You will find your own level wherever you go!

Besides, in your own words you said you've taken 3 workshops, and even lead one. Most of us have never lead a workshop. Personally, I wouldn't have the nerve or the talent. But you do!

So relax and enjoy it.
Good luck.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 28, 2006, 12:43 AM

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Re: [Windiciti] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Windiciti for the encouragement. It's true--I do agonize over this too much. I've always been weird about classrooms, class participation, any situation of performance--not weird in a visible way; nobody in class can tell I feel this way. I think that deep down I'm just very anti-performance for who knows what reason, and that's what I like about writing--it's revision based. Perhaps the anxiety has to do with coming from a culture of shame where people try to save face and not show their bad side in public. Not to go off on too much of a tangent--but it's like that chapter in the Joy Luck Club where the mother gets upset that the daughter brings home a guy who agrees that the food is bland after the mother disses her own cooking (expecting a compliment). This culture of extreme politeness is such a weird clash with creative writing where you often have to fail many times to even succeed, and fail publically. There's a whole crowd of women whose friendships are based on false compliments and insincerity--and for whom exclamation points and smilely faces are standard punctuation marks in e-mails signed xoxox (myself included). I don't know. It's interesting to think about honesty and how different groups of people handle it. I think this board is a good example of how to handle honesty well.

This is a nice thought:

"in ten years, many of you will have books out. It's worth it to be good to the people around you now."


sibyline


Mar 28, 2006, 6:26 AM

Post #44 of 235 (2770 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

My personal approach to workshop si that I assume I'll get as much out of it as I put into it until proven wrong. I'm generally pretty conscientious about providing feedback to everyone, and I find that people in workshop with me are appreciative of that and make sure to give me quality feedback as well. I become less forthcoming and helpful only when I feel like someone else hasn't been reading my work carefully, or is being unnecessarily negative, although I have a pretty high threshold in terms of that. I think it's important.

It's funny because I often find myself forcing people to say what they really feel instead of trying to get them to be nice. There's a lot of social pressure for people to say good things, because saying bad things tends to risk the other person getting annoyed. I was just looking over someone's on a story from my writing group: "your way of capsizing this drama, by creating a profound allegory in the minuteness of the every day, is only marred by some messy writing and empty Playgirl-esque eroticism." Ouch. When i read the comments for the first time last night, I had that incensed feeling. But in the light of early morning, I know that he's right and my story will be better for it. So I never dismiss people for saying something that hurts, as long as it isn't personal.

I don't really see the point of being competitive in the long run. If I'm competing against people, I don't see myself competing against the people I'm in workshop with, but with everyone else. If one of my fellow workshoppers is doing well, it inspires and pushes me to do well.


Windiciti



Mar 28, 2006, 9:16 AM

Post #45 of 235 (2746 views)
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Re: [LookUp] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh, dear!
I just read the story in your posting about Anna/Amy, and
that's all I can say, "Oh, dear!"
It sounds like this might be someone in full-time program, very competitive, (that's OK), but filled with arrogant, jejune youths.

It was really painful to read.

Certainly not what I expect to find in MY MFA or MA program, only because one is Low Res and the other is targeted to people who work, so the classes are at night. Bound to attract people with more life experience than the little BEASTS, including the professor described in the story.

Oh, and by the way, I vigorously disagree with the professor on fiction not being in part autobiographical. The best stories come from a feeling, a figment, an observation, the writer makes...a unique connection that only he/she can make because of his/her experience.

And so what if at first the writing is very autobiographical, as long as it is edited to BE fiction...which is more believable than truth anyway, if told well?

Of course, I don't have an MFA yet or a tenured position teaching impressionable youngsters in a college...so take it as
just an opinion.


amys27


Mar 28, 2006, 9:39 AM

Post #46 of 235 (2734 views)
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I read this, too, and thought it was hysterical. I even scared my dogs by laughing out loud a few times. (I am usually silent when I'm at my computer.)

For those of us who are sensitive--and many writers are--the ego-ridden world of (some) MFA programs and big writers conferences can be challenging. It's easy to lose your sense of self and any tiny bit of confidence you might possess. You have to guard yourself, cheer yourself on, and most of all remember why you write. Even if your reason is simply: I like to.

And that's what this story does so well. It illustrates, with painful but well-observed details, what that world can be like. Filled with arrogant, mean-spirited jerks. But the main character recognizes them for what they are. She cries and gets upset and THAT'S OKAY. She doesn't give up. She perseveres. She keeps writing. And she's funny. A sense of humor is *so* important.

This story should be a must read for aspiring writers and artists.

amys


edwriter



Mar 28, 2006, 10:42 AM

Post #47 of 235 (2712 views)
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Re: [amys27] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I laughed a lot, too. Unfortunately, it resonated in quite a few ways. I did think it was a great read. (I also enjoyed the poem willbell referred us to.)

But I can see how the story might also be dispiriting, especially to someone about to start an MFA program.

I've written a story set in a workshop, too. Some instructors (and editors) don't necessary seem too keen on this sort of subject matter. Maybe it's considered a kind of unseemly navel-gazing. But for anyone interested in workshop-themed stories here are a couple of others (can't promise hilarity, but worthy reads nonetheless).

"The Whore's Child," in Richard Russo's collection, The Whore's Child
An excerpt from Julia Alvarez's ¡Yo!, republished in Teaching Stories, ed. Robert Coles

There are more--I know there's a story by Elizabeth Stuckey-French but I can't remember the title. Anyone?

And there are certainly workshop scenes in Francine Prose's Blue Angel.

Any others to offer us glimpses into this subject through fiction?

Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



(This post was edited by edwriter on Mar 28, 2006, 3:03 PM)


LookUp


Mar 28, 2006, 1:18 PM

Post #48 of 235 (2683 views)
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Re: [Windiciti] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I know, it's a tough story. The funny thing for me was that I started reading this story in a bookstore and thought "Gee, this sounds a lot like my MFA program." Then I kept reading a little more and recognized some details and realized "This IS my MFA program." Rabb's bio confirmed it. I think group dynamics play a big part. Yes, workshop often felt like this story, but I don't remember my class being quite this cantankerous. I don't remember it being quite this bad all the time (for fiction you need to dramatize, of course) but there's def. a lot of truth there, unfortunately. (I type this with a smile. It's funny once you survive it).

I also disagree with the thing about fiction not having a root in real life. And honestly, I don't remember that being something we talked about a lot in the MFA, so, you know, the author may have been building a composite to get her idea own themes/ideas/frustrations across.

The other thing that's nice about this story (as someone further down pointed out) is that the author absolutely succeeded as a writer in all the ways her character wanted to. So it's a happy ending, in a round about way.


rooblue


Mar 28, 2006, 3:04 PM

Post #49 of 235 (2649 views)
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Re: [edwriter] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a truly truly bizarre workshop story in AS Byatt's collection, Little Black Book of Stories. Of course I can't remember the title of the specific story but there are only nine or so in the book so it's not hard to find. This particular story is grim/grotesque, not my favorite in the collection. Would make me think twice about ever taking a workshop with her, I should say.

It would be fun to pull together a book of stories set in workshops, wouldn't it? At minimum, there would be a large market within MFA programs. Probably someone has already done this?

Let's ask Pongo, he knows things like this...


rooblue


Mar 28, 2006, 3:07 PM

Post #50 of 235 (2646 views)
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Re: [edwriter] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Also, just thought of another one, by Vance Bourjaily, called "The Amish Farmer," although that's only tangentially a workshop story. Also rather grim though. I wonder if that's a requirement?


edwriter



Mar 28, 2006, 3:10 PM

Post #51 of 235 (2792 views)
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Re: [rooblue] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, rooblue. Adding them to the list.

Yes, it would be fun to put a book together. You'd think there would be a market for it, but then again I think some writers really don't go for these stories.


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 28, 2006, 4:00 PM

Post #52 of 235 (2775 views)
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Re: [edwriter] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Yeah, a book devoted to stories set in MFA workshops is about the last thing I'd want to buy, personally.


sibyline


Mar 28, 2006, 4:03 PM

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In Reply To
Yeah, a book devoted to stories set in MFA workshops is about the last thing I'd want to buy, personally.


seconded. *shiver* though i enjoyed the one posted.


edwriter



Mar 28, 2006, 4:04 PM

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Re: [edwriter] Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

For those who may be interested:

rooblue has confirmed (thanks!) that the Byatt story is called "Raw Material." If you have access to The Atlantic Online, you'll find it archived there (April 2002 issue).

And I got a tip that helped me find the Stuckey-French story, too. It's also an Atlantic story. "Electric Wizard" (June 1998). You can also find it in her 2000 collection, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and Other Stories.

Again--not that these necessarily focus on the mechanics of the workshop/critiquing. But they sure do get to some emotional aspects.

Best,
Erika

(This post was edited by edwriter on Mar 28, 2006, 4:25 PM)


riot grrrrl


Mar 28, 2006, 10:07 PM

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Re: [edwriter] Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Not a short story, but Tod Solondz's Storytelling is set in a workshop.

It features some great Speakeasy type dialogue, such as, I hear Updike has psoriasis!


andfw


Mar 28, 2006, 10:39 PM

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Re: [LookUp] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

That's funny, LookUp, I had the exact same experience with the Rabb story. Started reading it in a bookstore in the Zoetrope 2 anthology, and kept thinking how much it sounded like my program. Then of course I realized it was. I even sent her an e-mail telling her how much I liked it, and we compared notes on the prof in question. Funny stuff.

I noticed that at about the one-year mark of the program, all of a sudden everybody was writing workshop satires. Some of them were funny, although I don't like them on balance. I even sort of wrote one myself, but mine was more making fun of working at a lit journal than it was workshop itself.


Windiciti



Mar 28, 2006, 10:49 PM

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Re: [riot grrrrl, Rooblue] Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

This thread is amazing! And everyone on this post is pretty amazing, too!
Thank you for those titles. I will read the stories.

The weird thing is I've been thinking about writing a funny workshop story too, for a few months...um, also somewhat based on reality.

Perhaps someone wd. publish them all together if a smart person like Rooblue proposed the idea?

Has anyone seen the the first season of "The L Word?"
One of the characters, Jenny, is a budding writer and attends a workshop with a dreadful monster of a woman who humiliates her, etc, etc., until Jenny learns to write about her real, raw emotions.
My husband hates the show, but he was fascinated by these scenes.
The actress who played the writing teacher was harsh looking and sounding. Does anyone know who she was?


LookUp


Mar 29, 2006, 2:27 AM

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Re: [jstgerma] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

That's funny, jstgerma. I thought about writing to Rabb too, but never quite got around to it. I am totally wondering about the prof. The physical description makes it sound like one person (obviously) but the harshness of his comments, I thought, made it sound like another. Maybe that's a discussion for a private email, though.

Are you a recent graduate?


andfw


Mar 29, 2006, 3:05 AM

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Re: [LookUp] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm actually still here. I graduate in May.

As far as I could tell, the professor character was a composite based loosely on two different profs, so your take on it sounds spot on. I'm with you in that I don't really want to speculate as to their identities in a public forum, but I'm sure you know who I'm talking about.

My e-mail is my screen name here at email.arizona.edu, if you ever want to compare notes on the program.


LookUp


Mar 29, 2006, 12:36 PM

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Re: [jstgerma] MFA Workshop + Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Funny, that's what I figured. Luck with the program. :)


edwriter



Mar 30, 2006, 9:12 AM

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Re: [Windiciti] Emotions [In reply to] Can't Post

Did not see "L Word." Sounds interesting, though.

Quick update on some texts already mentioned. Read "Raw Material." Actually, I think I read it when it was first published. Very disturbing ending. Also found "The Amish Farmer" (which first appeared in Esquire in 1980) in a nice anthology, American Short Story Masterpieces (edited by Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks).

If all the stories focused on MFA workshops that could, indeed, be unappealing. But so many of these stories take place in different settings--classes at different levels, adult ed/community-type workshops (early in "Raw Material" we get a list of the students, their names, and their occupations). My own story was set at a summer conference. I know--minor variations, right? But variations nonetheless.

And if anyone was intrigued by "Electric Wizard," I should note that it's not really a "workshop story" in the way that most of these others seem to be. There are references to the summer workshop-for-young-people that the protagonist teaches, but the focus is really on how the protagonist manages some consequences of the suicide of one of her students. I don't think I've given too much away there. I hope not!

Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



clarabow


Mar 31, 2006, 1:33 AM

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Re: [edwriter] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Has anyone here had experience with the "Story Workshop" at Columbia College in Chicago?


Windiciti



Apr 1, 2006, 1:22 PM

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Re: [clarabow] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Clarabow,
I haven't had direct experience, but this is what I heard:
  1. The CW Director of another program in Chicago, (who has an MFA from a well-respected Eastern school and is a published writer) says they have to "deprogram" people from Columbia. It was intimated that they are not used to reacting w/ concrete negative and positive comments to other people's writing.
  2. The impression I got myself is that the story workshop may create a womb-like atmosphere---which is not for me. I attended the Open House and asked some questions.
  3. My writing professor at NU---published writer, who teaches a non-credit short fiction workshop---I REALLY respect his opinions---was interviewed for a job there, but objected to the Story Workshop concept.
  4. As I may have said before, opinion is so divided that it's hard to get a true reading. Maybe someone who has gone through the program will respond!



Windiciti



Apr 1, 2006, 1:24 PM

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Re: [clarabow] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

By the way, Clara, you are asking all the same questions I was asking, until they dinged me in early February!

I got an early response because of a scholarship situation w/the state of Illinois.

Keep on asking the questions!


sk1grrl


Apr 1, 2006, 4:27 PM

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Re: [Windiciti] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

The actress in question is Sandra Bernhard, who's famous for her one-woman shows. Her persona in real life is simliar in its directness. I thought she was great, really funny, probably because the character of Jenny really grates on me!


clarabow


Apr 1, 2006, 4:50 PM

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Re: [Windiciti] Critique Guidance in MFA Workshops [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow...hmmmm...

Does anyone know anything about the "Story Workshop" format at Columbia? I feel like I don't know that much about it...!


Windiciti



Apr 1, 2006, 7:43 PM

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Re: [sk1grrl] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey, sk1grrl!
thanks for the info on Bernhard. She is quite harsh looking and sounding.
I hated Jenny too: manipulative, wimpy, and dressed like a jerk---at least in the first season.
Even though I am not gay, I thought Shawn and Marina were the most attractive on the show. I think my husband really liked Marina's looks too.
An acquaintance who is gay, recently told me that Shawn is not gay in real life. More power to her as an actress!
I wish I had cable and cd. watch the show, now in its third season! I just loved it.


sovietsleepover


Apr 1, 2006, 9:45 PM

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Re: [Windiciti] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

To derail a bit: on one hand it is cool that straight actors will play gay characters--destigmatization, etc. On the other hand, I think it's a symptom of our greater culture's inability to deal with non-heteronormative people on a deeper level. No matter how outspokenly queer the tv character is, an ambivalent audience can always rest assured that the character's not gay in real life. What I think underscores this point is the lack of queer characters actually played by queer actors on popular tv shows, etc. Bug me a bit about this & I'll do better to back up my statements, but right now I'm headed out the door!

Anyway, Jenny totally annoyed me 1st season (I haven't seen later seasons yet): why does the only bi-identified girl in the cast also have to be a totally flaky dingbat?


Windiciti



Apr 2, 2006, 1:29 AM

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Re: [sovietsleepover] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

Dunno. She seems to have irritated a few of us. But didn't her stories get better as the workshop progressed?
Don't remember if that was in the second season. You can rent it.

As far as actors playing straight or gay characters, I don't care. They are Actors. I expect them to be convincing, just like the two protagonists in Brokeback Mountain.


sk1grrl


Apr 2, 2006, 11:56 AM

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Re: [Windiciti] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

Alice is bi, too, as is the actress who plays her, I believe.

And while we're at it, let's talk about the portrayal of the writer as a self-mutilating manipulator whose work is completely self-referential! What's up with that? Why can't television get beyond the stereotype of the tortured artist? ;)


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 2, 2006, 1:29 PM

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Re: [sovietsleepover] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

I dont' know what percentage of gay roles are played by gay characters. I suspect its a good amount. There are plenty of gay actors, many of them famous. I'm not sure why you think audiences can rest assured that the actor himself isn't gay, unless you are talking about some major hollywood star in a blockbuster movie, like a BM scenario.

I think hollywood pretty much has to have some straight people play gay people, as the percentage of queer characters these days seems to be far higher than the percentage of self-identified queer people (that being around 1 to 3%).

But yeah, they are actors. I don't need a gay actor in that role anymore than I need a racist actor in a racist role.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 2, 2006, 3:50 PM

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Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

One thing I've been wondering about is what MFA workshops are going to be like. I have a feeling I'm unprepared.
I did plenty of workshops in undergrad, but frankly no one else in them was any good and most of the students weren't serious about writing, they just needed an art credit. I'm not bragging there, as I'm sure many other people here had the same experience.

So a room full of talented dedicated students critiquing each other? I wonder how it will turn out. I have a feeling it will be more a lot more competitive and dare I say nasty than undergrad...


Windiciti



Apr 2, 2006, 7:11 PM

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Re: [sk1grrl] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

I know I must have sounded harsh when I said poor Jenny was wimpy. I don't know how I could have forgotten her self-mutilation episodes. That was really horrible, not funny at all.
But I have forgotten why she had to do this. I remember she was tortured by something in her Jewish childhood, but don't know what it was.

When she wrote up the dream sequences about the Professor in France for her story class, that was really fascinating. I felt that this had required some thought on the part of the scriptwriter, and that was enjoyable, and to me, acut above the average story line on most TV shows.

Alice is really an adorable character!

I really don't care who plays straight, bisexual, or gay people, as long as they do a good job. But it was interesting to find out who is and who isn't really gay on that show.


Windiciti



Apr 2, 2006, 7:37 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

There are generally some ground rules established at the outset by any professor who knows the business.
I've taken workshops in diffrerent settings, and most had the same rules. Here are some:
  • Remember to to mention the good w/the bad when you critique someone's work. Use appropriate language.
  • Make concrete suggestions for improvement.
  • Don't make picayunne comments.
  • Don't be a HOG and bring a lengthier piece than required at one time.
  • Proofread your stuff and don't waste our time. (This one is mine!)
  • The author may not speak until the end, after the profs. comments.
  • As an author, don't defend yourself when it's your turn to comment! Remember if it's not on the page, it doen't exist, so don't tell us about it.
  • Make notes of people's comments.

As far as quality of work from other participants, that's pretty much the luck of the draw. And I say this also as an experienced English High School teacher, where I've had great groups of students and then all the others, too.


andfw


Apr 2, 2006, 7:41 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

I had the same experience w/undergrad workshops. I was really nervous about my first grad workshop until I read the first round of stories, and realized that we're still talking about drafts here. I've yet to see a publishable story (although I've read a few that wound up published after revision). After my undergrad experience, I found it really refreshing to be in a workshop where everybody else took it seriously, and everybody else was legitimately talented.

People don't pull any punches in grad workshops, but I've rarely seen real nastiness (it does happen). My experience has been that grad-program competitiveness (is that a word?) manifests itself much more outside of workshop.


sk1grrl


Apr 2, 2006, 7:42 PM

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Re: [Windiciti] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

Nah, you didn't sound harsh at all. it's really amazing how the writers on that show have managed to create a completely unsympathetic character out of Jenny, despite all of her attendant horrific life circumstances.

Prime example: the recent episode in which Eve Ensler is playing her potential book editor, and suggests changes that shift Jenny's book away from "glorifying" cutting. But good old Jenny refuses to work with Eve the editor and make the suggested changes.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 2, 2006, 8:24 PM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

You've really never seen a publishable story in a grad workshop?
I think I've had some had some published from undergrad workshops...

Windi, yeah we had most of the rules in undergrad, but that doesn't mean you can't see that kinda stuff go on. It just gets cloaked a little more. I'm excited to work with serious, talented writers. I'm just wondering how different it will be from undergrad. Will the sense of hiearchy be lessened since eveyrone is hopefully talented, or will it be hightened since the better students will be publishing in magazines (hell, maybe even publishing books).
I can't imagine what it would have been like to be in a grad workshop with David Foster Wallace while his novel was being published...

Maybe I'm taking my idea of the nastiness too much from Wonderboys.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 2, 2006, 8:47 PM)


sibyline


Apr 2, 2006, 9:22 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

i personally don't find the grad mfa experience intimidating as much as inspiring. i've already done it in the visual art field, and it is refreshing when people are taking their work seriously. i sat in on a workshop at cornell where two of the second year students brought in work, and i didn't really think my work had to be "better" than theirs, since there is no objective measure of better. i feel inspired to make work that could measure up to the standard that other people set, but i also know that whatever i make is a product of my own individual experience and imagination.

i don't think of publication as the be all and end all of success, especially in writing. fortunes change really quickly in the fiction world. for me, it's about the work, and being able to say something meaningful about the world in a way that hasn't been said before.

in my experience, things really only get nasty when the person being workshopped gets defensive, or clearly thinks too highly of his or her story.


andfw


Apr 2, 2006, 10:13 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Actually, you caught me. I'm lying. I've really seen lots and lots of first drafts in workshop that were ready for the pages of Ploughshares.

The bottom line is that if your story is of a quality that it's ready for submission and publication, you shouldn't be bringing it to workshop. Workshop doesn't exist so you can have your talent validated; it exists to expedite the revision process by giving you reader feedback. I've seen a lot of excellent first drafts, and I've read early versions of stories that wound up published. But I've never seen a story in workshop that was ready to be published as is. Nor have I ever distributed anything in workshop that was anything more polished than a working draft. Nor should I have.

BTW, I really don't want to get into a message-board dispute, but sibyline is right -- for the last week or so, I've been reading your posts and wondering if I was the only one who found a disproportionate number of them to be combative. You seem to have a habit of asking questions just for the sake of arguing about the answers you get.


In Reply To
You've really never seen a publishable story in a grad workshop?
I think I've had some had some published from undergrad workshops...

Windi, yeah we had most of the rules in undergrad, but that doesn't mean you can't see that kinda stuff go on. It just gets cloaked a little more. I'm excited to work with serious, talented writers. I'm just wondering how different it will be from undergrad. Will the sense of hiearchy be lessened since eveyrone is hopefully talented, or will it be hightened since the better students will be publishing in magazines (hell, maybe even publishing books).
I can't imagine what it would have been like to be in a grad workshop with David Foster Wallace while his novel was being published...

Maybe I'm taking my idea of the nastiness too much from Wonderboys.



Windiciti



Apr 2, 2006, 10:28 PM

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Re: [sk1grrl] Professor Character on The L Word [In reply to] Can't Post

Lucky you!
I have to wait till the third season comes out in DVD, because I don't have cable. And now that I'm going to be slogging for two years on a computer for the MFA program the temptation to pay extra for the Dish to get HBO and Showtime is really nil.


Windiciti



Apr 2, 2006, 10:52 PM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

No you are not the only one, jstgerma. I agree with you.

What are you so angry and bitter about, Clench Million?


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 2, 2006, 11:25 PM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

An interestingly combative post about how you dislike combativeness.

I like to examine issues from multiple sides and teasing out the truth. I can see how it might seem combative, but I assure you I have no interest in message board fighting or argument for the sake of argument.

Of course, I've thought similar things about other posters, but I'll leave them unnamed. Trying to call people out on a messageboard like this seems silly.

As far as the topic at hand, there are enough magazines out there that many a good first draft should be publishable. Revision and workshopping can help make it better (ie publishible at better and better journals). What is the line? No story is ever finished, just abandoned? I don't see anything wrong with that, it depends on how you write. Some people can ram through a 20 page draft without thinking or planning and scrap the entire thing, saving only two lines, in revision. Other people need to be more calculated when writing. Some writers seem to begrudge anyone who doesn't write in the way they do. I've never understood why.

I'd say the workshop is primarily a place to teach you to how to self-edit and self-critique. This is its main value to a writer. The help you get from 20 minutes of discussion about an individual piece is good and hopefully helpfull, but the other aspect is more valueable IMO.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 2, 2006, 11:51 PM)


bighark


Apr 2, 2006, 11:27 PM

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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Could have fooled me.


edwriter



Apr 3, 2006, 12:15 AM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Hmm. Yes, it's true that workshop "exists to expedite the revision process." That's a great way of putting it. But for some workshop submissions, that's going to be a much more intensive (and extensive) process than it will for others.

I can think of one workshop in which someone (it wasn't me!) brought in a story that I thought was publishable pretty much as it was. The amazing thing was that the instructor, with whom I disagreed on virtually everything else all semester, also thought it was publishable, and said so during the workshop session.

I don't think the writer in this case had any sense that the story was so good. Plenty of writers--MFA students are hardly any exception here--lack perspective on their work. I think we may be more accustomed to seeing that skewed perspective manifested differently: a student brings a story into workshop thinking it's much more ready for publication than it really is, and learns a harsh truth. But the reverse can also be true, and the truth can actually be much brighter.

Yes, this was an exceptional case. But there are definitely variations in other work I've seen submitted. Some are obviously closer to publication-ready than others. You never know when someone may have worked on a piece for a very long time--workshopped it (even repeatedly) elsewhere--and may in fact just need some fairly simple polishing-up. I think that sort of working draft also deserves some time in the workshop. It can be good (even inspiring) for everyone to see (nearly) finished work, too. Hopefully, in that instance, the instructor can offer some really solid advice on pursuing publication. And if the rest of the class can learn from that, too, so much the better.

Best,
Erika


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 12:23 AM

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Re: [edwriter] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
I don't think the writer in this case had any sense that the story was so good. Plenty of writers--MFA students are hardly any exception here--lack perspective on their work. I think we may be more accustomed to seeing that skewed perspective manifested differently: a student brings a story into workshop thinking it's much more ready for publication than it really is, and learns a harsh truth. But the reverse can also be true, and the truth can actually be much brighter.


Yes, exactly. No one is going to be writing publishible stories every time, but some people can do them on the first draft (or with minor revisions) and some people can't recognize this.

Like I said, I think the workshop process is there to teach you how to self-edit and self-revise. If you knew how to do this perfectly, well, you wouldn't need to be in a workshop in the first place.

ETA: Also, don't you normally workshop second drafts? In my undergrad, we would normally workshop at least one story twice in a semester.

I can understand where you are coming from jstgerma in saying one shouldn't bring a polished draft to class but... on a practical level, you bring what you've worked on. If a writer writes has a great story idea he works on for the weeks leading up to his workshop day and he realizes it is publishable, he isn't going to trash the story. He isn't going to pull an all nighter writing something new just so he can turn in a worse story...

Likewise if he is revising a story for a second look in workshop, he isn't going to stop because the revision is too good and purposefully make the story worse.

You go with what you have at the time.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 12:33 AM)


andfw


Apr 3, 2006, 2:19 AM

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It is silly to call people out on a message board. But it's not as silly as being passive-agressive: trolling for arguments, going out of your way to tell us that you do feel that "certain posters" whom you won't deign to identify are combative, being so self-congratulatory, etc. I guess I'd rather just speak up when I notice something, though I admit I'd also prefer not to argue about this.

On the subject of ... whatever the subject is, I think your reasoning behind first drafts being publishable is pretty suspect: there are too many journals, which means that some of them will publish mediocre writing, which means that we should all stop once a story's mediocre and submit it to bad journals? I seriously doubt I could get any of my first drafts published anywhere I would want to be published; you may well be able to. But I assure you that if you're envisioning a career during which you never have to bother to revise, you're in for a series of rude awakenings. I don't think it's a matter of different writing styles. Writing wonderful first drafts isn't a style -- it's an incredibly rare talent. And if a writer is that talented, why attend a workshop at all?

I similarly disagree with your assertion that workshop's primary role is to teach a writer how to self-edit and self-revise. As opposed to what? Other-editing? Other-revising? Is somebody else really going to revise our stories for us? And how exactly does submitting one's work for critique by others inspire "self-revision"? The only thing that's ever really inspired me to revise or edit my own stories was rereading them after some time away. Workshop's primary role is to let the writer know the one thing he or she can't: how it feels to read their story. Otherwise, it takes a while to get enough distance to read it with any sort of objectivity.

Edwriter -- as for your example, I've had a similar experience with a workshop draft that was very close to publishable. Maybe it even was publishable as is -- I didn't think so, but I'm not making that decision. Even so, the class identified a number of areas in which it could improve. I fail to see what good it does for anybody involved to spend workshop time speculating on a story's publishability, especially if it takes the form of "this is publishable, let's go home".

Clench Million, as for your example in which a writer realizes the night before workshop that his first draft is publishable as is: odds are, he's wrong.

I knew (and currently teach) lots of undergrads who thought their first drafts were perfect. Now I know lots of talented grad students and published authors who never think their fourth drafts are good enough. Funny how that works.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 3:25 AM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Haha, I wasn't meaning to imply you were the unnamed poster jst. I've never noticed your posting here before and have no opinion of your overall posting style. Only the silly comment was targted at you (I thought quite openly), as a suggestion that we discuss the subject at hand not each other.

Quote
which means that we should all stop once a story's mediocre and submit it to bad journals?

Nowhere did I say or imply this. In fact, I quite frankly stated the opposite in that same post: "Revision and workshopping can help make it better (ie publishible at better and better journals)."

You seem to be fishing for a fight.

Quote
But I assure you that if you're envisioning a career during which you never have to bother to revise, you're in for a series of rude awakenings.

I'm envisioning a career of odd straw men attacks when I'm just trying to generally discuss MFA questions and concerns, at least.

Quote
I don't think it's a matter of different writing styles. Writing wonderful first drafts isn't a style -- it's an incredibly rare talent.

I think its often writing style. Some writers can't simply pound out random stuff (as is often the advice). Some need to think and plan and revise each paragraph as they go along.


Quote
I similarly disagree with your assertion that workshop's primary role is to teach a writer how to self-edit and self-revise. As opposed to what? Other-editing

....you've never heard of other people editing work? You've never had to edit work for someone in a workshop?

The point is that through hearing other students critique your work and, more importantly through being forced to critique others works (in which you have a more objective distance), you learn how to self-critique for your future writing life. It is easier to spot flaws in other people's work and learning to critique other's work closely will help you learn to spot your own flaws.

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Is somebody else really going to revise our stories for us?

There is a whole cottage industry around the concept...


Quote
The only thing that's ever really inspired me to revise or edit my own stories was rereading them after some time away.

This would seem slightly at odds with your earlier claim that the entire point of a workshop is to expedite the revision process by giving you reader feedback.
If reader feedback has never inspired you to revise or edit AND it isn't teaching you how to self-critique, what are you getting out of it jstgerma?


Quote
I fail to see what good it does for anybody involved to spend workshop time speculating on a story's publishability, especially if it takes the form of "this is publishable, let's go home".

My original comment was speculating how talented the work of grad school students will be versus undergrad. You responded talking about how it normally isn't publishible. I, at least, took this to be more a general qualitative statement and didn't mean for a long nit-picky discussion about whether something was technically finished. "publishable" work in this context (how impressive fellow student's work is) should mean, I think, obviously talented work that is pretty much ready for submission. Not necessarily work that is 100% polished nor work that can't be improved at all.

And again, don't you turn in revisions to class to? We did in undergrad...


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 3:30 AM)


andfw


Apr 3, 2006, 4:39 AM

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Quote
Only the silly comment was targted at you (I thought quite openly), as a suggestion that we discuss the subject at hand not each other.

Well, I'm with you there. And I am not fishing for a fight, though I do disagree with many of your points, and your overall demeanor chafes. It's entirely possible that I'm misconstruing your aims and/or words -- it is, after all, an internet message board.

Beyond that, line-by-line bickering seems tedious to me. I'll try to reply to some of your points on the topic.

Other people can critique work, and other people do -- both workshops and the cottage industry you so kindly informed me of, which I happen to work within. But they most certainly do not revise anybody's story for them. An author has to internalize the criticism, decide which (if any) she wants to address, and make the changes to her own story. Unless you were talking about ghostwriting, which is really another topic.

But I most strongly disagree with your assertion that writing near-perfect first drafts is a common (or anything better than rare) writing "style". Nothing in my relatively extensive experience supports that, and so I simply can't give it credence. Frankly, I think it's naive. Even if a writer is meticulous with her prose while writing a first draft, that doesn't necessarily have any bearing on the larger craft issues of plot or characterization, among others. It seems to me that such a writer would produce drafts that were superior on a line level only, and, further -- as is very common -- drafts in which the beginning was excellent and the end was rough.

I have absolutely never edited a story in a workshop. I understand that to mean line editing: correcting punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. I wouldn't waste my time with that. If they want it edited, they can pay a copy editor. I have made larger comments when I noticed consistent issues with the prose, though. But those were always brief.

On that note, I think a lot of the disagreement here has to do with terminology. Beyond the examples above, workshop has never inspired me to revise my own stories. It has given me valuable feedback that I later used in revision, but I don't think a writer should need inspiration for anything. It's nice, but it's not necessary. In the end, I think writers need to be self-motivated. I would revise my stories with or without workshop, and with or without inspiration. What I get out of workshop is exactly what I said before: I get the one thing I can't accurately gauge, which is an understanding of how it feels to pick up my story without ever having seen it and read it from beginning to end. Of course, that's an ideal -- I don't always actually get that.

To answer your question, I've never turned in a revised story to an entire graduate workshop. For two workshops, I had to hand in a revision to the professor at the end of the semester. I've only ever workshopped first drafts, because I didn't want to waste one of my 12-14 workshops on a piece that had already been through one. A few of my classmates have turned in the same story twice, but never (that I've seen) to the same workshop, in the same semester. I'm not saying that other people shouldn't, or that I would never do it -- only that I haven't.


(This post was edited by jstgerma on Apr 3, 2006, 4:42 AM)


bighark


Apr 3, 2006, 9:28 AM

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Clench, am I the one who will not be named? It kind of appears that way, but I can't tell if you were talking about someone else.
I mean, you've been here for a little over two weeks and your aggressive post to non-aggressive post ratio is a little lop sided. It's not hard to get lost in the all the activity. Anyway, I'm glad you edited your initial post. The one that I first responded to was a little caustic.

Now, despite your prickly online personality, I have to say that you have a clear passion and enthusiasm for writing. In terms of schools, I think any program that takes you will be lucky to have you. You clearly care deeply about the subject.

I caution you to put things in perspective, though. Based on what you've shared with the community, it looks like you had a disappointing if not awful experience as an undergrad creative writing major. I'm very sorry that happened to you, but not every workshop experience will be like the ones that you had. Not every workshop participant will be like the ones you've met.

And if these writers and workshops end up sucking just like you suspect, so what? Where's the harm? Write like crazy in your out-of-class time and consider the MFA experience an exercise in scholarly leisure. There's no shortage of authors out there who claim that the only important thing they got out of their MFAs was free time.

Anyway, Clench, I guess my point is that you seem wound up awfully tight. Loosen up. It's only writing.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 1:17 PM

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bighark: Yikes. No, I was not referring to you either, honest.


Quote
Based on what you've shared with the community, it looks like you had a disappointing if not awful experience as an undergrad creative writing major. ...And if these writers and workshops end up sucking just like you suspect, so what? Where's the harm? Write like crazy in your out-of-class time and consider the MFA experience an exercise in scholarly leisure.


Woah, I'm not sure how I gave that impression. I believe the only thing I said about undergrad was that none of my fellow students could write and most weren't taking writing seriously. That latter is totally fine, it was an elective to most people, just like my electives were majors for other people. The former part was dissapointing in that I didn't feel I learned much from the fellow students, but oh well.
I learned plenty from the teachers and had an excellent time as a undergrad CW major.

The only reason I brought up bad classmates before was to say I thought getting into a top MFA program would be important for getting a good peer group.

My original post here was just wondering if grad school will be the exact opposite. IE, a bunch of a really serious and talented people and I was speculating that I won't know what to expect with these new types of workshops. So no harm at all, I welcome it.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 1:29 PM

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jstgerma:

Yes, some editors do edit and revise your work in substantial ways. Sure, its up to you in that you can agree with those edits or not and then you can revise AGAIN, but other people can and do edit work.

It seems be me like you were being a bit pendantic before though. Let me lay it clear. When I said the workshop setting teaches you how to self-edit and self-critique your work, you can take that to mean EFFECTIVELY self-edit and to BETTER self-critique. Obviously every writer at every stage self-edits and self-critiques, but workshops should help you builds skills to do so well. Given that the above meaning shoudl have been obvious, you can at least see how your "oh, what other kind of magic editing is there!" responses seemed a little smart-assy and pendantic.

As for first drafts, you've seem to have misunderstood me. I said some writers can make near-publishible first drafts. Not near perfect. Plenty of publishible work could have been better. I'm sure few writers could turn out a story in a first draft that makes you think "perfect!"
Again, the original subject was quality at an MFA level versus undergrad level. I have to assume there will be writers whose work upon first draft makes me think "woah, a few little changes and this should be submitted."

As for the revise thing. Your original claim was that workshops sole purpose is to "expediate" the revision process and then you claimed that you've only ever revised after waiting a long time then re-reading a piece. So it didn't expediate anything. That was the contradition I was pointing to before.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 1:31 PM)


sarandipidy


Apr 3, 2006, 2:00 PM

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<<The only reason I brought up bad classmates before was to say I thought getting into a top MFA program would be important for getting a good peer group.>>

Even though I personally applied to more selective programs (since I only chose 3 this year, and my personality pretty much requires a small program), I vehemently disagree with this. It's upsetting how every aspect of our social world is so focused on prestige/reputation/etc. On, basically, the perpetuation of myth over time (the Ivy league began because of athletics, not academics!).

There are other reasons for going to larger or less selective MFA programs than "he couldn't get into a top program," which is subjective in itself (the US News rankings, from over *TEN* years ago, are based entirely on peer review). Some writers, for example, need to stay close to home for family or employment reasons. Some writers may have found better funding elsewhere. Some writers may admire a particular faculty member that teaches at a 'less selective' program. Some writers, frankly, are so mature and independent that they could care less about name recognition. Likewise, some writers are accepted at "top" programs for reasons other than talent (like, for example, they have enough money to buy their way into Harvard, or Iowa)! And some very talented writers may be horrible classmates and critics!

We're talking about an advanced degree here. You do realize that people at less-known programs are after an advanced degree in writing, don't you? That they are often paying out of their own pocket and schedule, have spent hours toiling at applications, to be there? Why do you think that people at these schools will be less motivated? These aren't people in your undergrad class looking for an easy A or arts credit. Geez.

I don't know where you went to undergrad, but I've had my share of disappointment in my classmates at two more 'prestigious' colleges. You will find slackers at Harvard. You will find poor classmates at Iowa. You will find brilliant students at 'unknowns.' I think you are playing into one of the more ridiculous games of our culture, and for the record, there are lots of people on this board going to less-prestigious programs who I'm sure don't appreciate your viewpoint.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 2:15 PM

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What do you vehemently disagree with? That people should apply to the best schools they can get into so they have a good peer group, or that better schools have better peer groups? I seem to have a touched a nerve with you there, but I'm not sure what. What I said shouldn't have been controversial.

Let me first say that a good peer group is FAR FAR FAR from the only criteria one should use in picking an MFA. All I was saying is that better schools are going to have better peer groups.

As for your list. Yes, a certain minority of good writers won't be willing to move anywhere else. Sure. But that doesn't change the fact that on average the peer group at JHU or UCI is going to be better than at podunk u. As for people getting more money elsewhere, well, as a general rule those people probably werne't as good as the people who got money from the top scools. Again, I'm just saying a good peer group is important and you have a much better shot of finding that at a top program than not.

I guess we could imagine some scenario where 10 amazing writers lived right in Podunk and HAD to go to school there and all got in and Podunk would have a better group than UCI.... but it seems unlikely.

As for the US News, who said anything about that? Yes it is outdated, no one should use it as a the definitive guide to what schools are the best.

And FYI, while the Ivy League was an athletics league, but it wasn't merely "because of" athletics in terms of who got in. They picked the most prestigious schools in NE, so in that sense it was "because" of academics. In fact, a requirement to join the Ivy Leauge was that there were no athletic scholarships and that all students had teh same standard of admission. Also, the term Ivy League to mean excellent education predates the formation of the athletic league. So you are a bit misinformed there.

"Why do you think that people at these schools will be less motivated?"

Who on earth said they will be less motivated? I said they won't be as good. Very different things.

"You will find slackers at Harvard. You will find poor classmates at Iowa. You will find brilliant students at 'unknowns.' "

It is fallicious to apply a general rule to exceptional examples or even to individual examples. If I say statistically Danish people are taller than Japanese people you can't respond "I knew a tall Japaense guy once so you're wrong!"

I'm saying generally people will be better at better schools, a random counter example doesn't effect this rule of thumb (AFWIW, I didn't got to a very prestigious undegrad program at all... I'm hardly some snobby ivy league kid).


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 2:25 PM)


andfw


Apr 3, 2006, 2:32 PM

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Clench,

It's hard not to be pedantic when you continually change the terms of your statements. First you said that others revise work; I said they didn't, they only edited; now you say they "can and do edit work". Well, I never said they didn't edit. As a matter of fact, I'm writing this post at my workplace, which is a company that edits authors' manuscripts. Similarly, you first said that workshop's primary purpose was to help authors "self-edit" and "self-revise". Now you seem to be saying that it's just one of the benefits. You first said that "many a good first draft should be publishable"; now "some writers can make near-publishable first drafts." In light of your dithering and equivocation, I find it ironic that you accuse me of pedantry.

As for the role of workshop in my revision process, I explained that rather fully in my last post. Forgive me for not repeating myself -- I don't want to seem pedantic.

You're grasping at straws throughout this thread. Perhaps you should actually attend a serious workshop (one that lasts longer than 20 minutes) before pontificating about the role of workshop in the writing process and questioning those who have been through it. I teach undergrad workshops; they're not much like grad school. You strike me as long on opinions and short on experience.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 2:42 PM

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Re: [jstgerma] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

jst: I'm sorry, but the reason I quoted you line by line before was because you had so blatantly twisted what I said and I wanted to get you to actually quote me instead of attacking straw men.

a) The semantical debate over whether someone editing your work counts as revising seems silly. If I pay someone to substantially edit my story, is it a revision? (which was the only scenario I said others revise) I'm fine conceding incorrect usage if it will get us back to the substance of what is being said...

b) You previously implied that other people DON'T edit work, allow me to quote: "I similarly disagree with your assertion that workshop's primary role is to teach a writer how to self-edit... As opposed to what? Other-editing?"
Now you have changed your mind, which is good, but your claims here are dishonest.

c) Yes, I believe the primary purpose of a workshop should be to teach you how to critique, especially your own work. You, the writer, are going to be writing for decades after you do workshops. They should be providing you with the tools to write successfully during your life. They should not be merely helping you revise a few specific stories. This shouldn't be a controversial opinion, the whole point of academics is to give you the tools to be succesful more than teaching you the names of the presidents or some such.

d) After I pointed out several cases of you blatantly twisting what I said and attacking straw men, to watch you not even acknolwledge such but try to attack me for equivocation is a bit too much intellectual dishonesty to handle for what should be a friendly discussion about MFA programs, of all things.

It seems your concern here is to catch me tripping up on word usage or making some pendantic/misleading reply to something I said. IE, trying to trip me up on technical grounds. My concern is only with discussion the subject, not with trying to disprove you the poster, who I'm sure I won't even remember tomorrow. It seems our goals are at odds.





(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 3:07 PM)


Windiciti



Apr 3, 2006, 2:43 PM

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Hello, Clench Million!
Where is Podunk U?


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 2:56 PM

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http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_132.html
Where is Podunk?


Windiciti



Apr 3, 2006, 3:04 PM

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Ok, Clench! Very cute response.

I guess what I really wanted to know for my own edification, is which MFA schools you consider to be in the "Podunk U"
category?

Thanks.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 3:11 PM

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Well, I thought you were just asking a cute question.
I don't have a specific program in mind here. Suffice to say when I talk about "top schools" here I don't mean top 5 ("OMG I have to go to Iowa!!")
I mean something more like top 25 schools versus ones that would be in the 40 and below range. (This is a hypothetical ranking, not the old US News one...) I'm not going to pretend to know near enough about every single MFA program to give you a list of bad schools. I used Podunk U as a stand-in for specific programs for that purpose.

Going to one of the top 25 schools will probably provide you with a good group of peers, don't you think? OTOH, the quality of work for people attending the worst programs is probably going to, well, be worse (same with faculty and other aspects of the program).

I'm honestly surprised this is the least bit controversial. Better programs are better programs. On average they will have better faculty and students. Seems self-evident.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 3:14 PM)


andfw


Apr 3, 2006, 3:12 PM

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Wow. Your hypocrisy in this post is truly galling. In fact, pretty much every post of yours in this thread is preposterous -- I can't even keep up with your incessant editing, much less parse your sanctimonious blather.

Obviously your concerns are not only with discussing the subject, as is plainly demonstrated by the multiple arguments you've started in this thread alone, and the collective response to your presence.

As I said before, if you want to be able to weigh in authoritatively on the nature and aims of workshop, maybe you should spend a little more time in serious workshops.

Speaking of which, best of luck in your MFA.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 3, 2006, 3:17 PM

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Well it seems our feelings are quite mutual.
I pointed out your hypocrisy and dishonest replies several times. You used some big and impressive words in your ad hominems.

Lets just call it a day, as this I'm sure this is terribly boring for anyone reading.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 3, 2006, 3:20 PM)


andfw


Apr 3, 2006, 3:26 PM

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Agreed.

In Reply To
Lets just call it a day, as this I'm sure this is terribly boring for anyone reading.



__________



Apr 4, 2006, 4:24 AM

Post #103 of 235 (2857 views)
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Yeebers...

You guys appear to misunderstand each other. Or is it the editing?

Best I can tell, Podunk U will be recognized as a "better school" once it has a proven track record of talented students and a great faculty. Iowa doesn't strike me as very cosmopolitan. Neither does Alabama. Both are now "better schools". So I find that comforting. Plus, any school with great funding will become a top school--just look at the Michener program.

There may be scads of problems with the Ivies in concept. 'Reputation' can indeed be a lame, self-fulfilling prophecy. Still, I think it's reasonable to expect a more able peer group, writing-wise, from a 'better' school, if only because that school has hundreds of applicants, and can be more selective.

On the other hand, nothing says a room of slam-dunk writers will help you more than a class of equally motivated, but less able, peers. In my experience, it doesn't really hinge on motivation, either. (I got the best comments from a lazy business major). All things equal, I'm going for schools with good funding and a solid publication record by students with similar styles. I think this means 'better schools', but not in any snobbish type way...


six five four three two one 0 ->


motet
Dana Davis / Moderator
e-mail user

Apr 4, 2006, 10:07 AM

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In Reply To
Or is it the editing?



Yes, that's the problem with having the ability to edit. Once you've done that, even if it's only to correct a spelling error, you've compromised to one extent or another, the integrity of your argument.

If someone edits their original post, how can they reasonably complain about a response? When someone edits numerous posts, how can they expect their perspective to be taken seriously at all? If one decides to almost completely re-write history, they probably shouldn't expect to be viewed as a person of integrity.

Let's face it, who can or even wants to have any kind of meaningful discussion with someone who's just trying to gaslight you....




Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 11:13 AM

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I see no problem with editing posts quickly after one posts.

It only becomes a problem if one edits a post after the RESPONSE to the post.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 11:57 AM

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Quote
Still, I think it's reasonable to expect a more able peer group, writing-wise, from a 'better' school, if only because that school has hundreds of applicants, and can be more selective.

On the other hand, nothing says a room of slam-dunk writers will help you more than a class of equally motivated, but less able, peers.


And the first part was all I was saying. Better schools are more selective and more desired by writers. We can pretty safely assume writers will choose the better schools over worse ones when they have the option (at least assuming there aren't big funding discrepancies) and that better schools, due to their applicant pool, can pick a more talented class.

As to the second part, no doubt nothing is gaurenteed, but I think most writers are inspired and moved by the talent in others. I know I get insipration from reading amazing books and amazing authors move me to write.

Will they help you in the sense of provide good critique and smart edits? Here a bad school might be just as good as a good school. However, there is no reason (that I can think of) to think that people at top schools would be worse at critiquing so at worst we can assume they are at least as good as the peer groups in bad schools. OTOH, schools do pay some attention to LOR, transcripts and essays (at leas I applied to a few schools that made me turn in an essay), so there is some reason to believe a top school will have better students in the academic sense as well.


bighark


Apr 4, 2006, 12:02 PM

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I think the issue, Clench, is that you routinely edit with moments of posting. I've actually responded to some your initial drafts only to see an edited version after I've hit "Post Reply." As I'm sure you can imagine, this can be a little unsettling--especially if the edit renders what you've just been writing moot.

Edits aren't such a big deal most of the time, but when you're engaged in an argument, they are. Because you argue a lot, I would suggest drafting your responses in a word processor before you commit to the website, or to avoid editing in favor of posting addendums in the form of new responses.

That, I think, would help.


sarandipidy


Apr 4, 2006, 12:10 PM

Post #108 of 235 (2779 views)
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<<On the other hand, nothing says a room of slam-dunk writers will help you more than a class of equally motivated, but less able, peers.>>

That was pretty much my point.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 12:13 PM

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Re: [bighark] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

bighark: the only time that happened was your flippant "coulda fooled me" response earlier here. I only expanded my post, so what you responded to remained in tact.

Personally if I notice an logical error in my argument or realize I"ve misquoted the other person, I'd rather fix it quickly before anyone can reaspond than do what some others do here and leave their misrepresentations and fallacies intact for everyone to read. It both makes said poster look foolish (straw men and word twisting aren't what I'd call an argument integrity) and risks tricking casual viewers into thinking the other person really did say those things.... of course, maybe that's the point for some people.



Anyway, all my edits here were done within a few minutes of posting and all long before jstgerma responded, likewise his/her edits were long before I responded, so no Junior Maas, misunderstandings weren't because of the edits.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 12:19 PM

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Re: [sarandipidy] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, your earlier post really sounded like you thought the students would be better writers. If you only mean they won't necessarily be better critiquers, I think that makes a little more sense, but I still think as a general rule better schools will have better students overall.

Again, programs do pay some attention to essays, LORs and transcripts. It is my understanding that much of what they look for there is how well you work in a workshop setting and how you do as a student. (They don't care if a LOR says how great your writing is, they already know what they think of that, they want to hear what your professors think of your ability to work with others and such)

So on that level, we can assume they probably will be able to help you more. I also wouldn't be surprised if brillant writers are better critiquers.


bighark


Apr 4, 2006, 12:27 PM

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My "could of fooled me" post was in response to a post where you said that you werent' interested in arguing. "Flippant" is the word you use to describe it--I would have used "witty." Anyway, your edit voided my response precisely because you added to what you had originally written.

I stand by my advice, Clench. If you're going to argue with someone, take care of your misquotes or errors in logic before you commit something to the site. That's not asking a lot. Besides, you have a twenty day record here of engaging in back-and-forth arguments over writing workshop mechanics, the state of publishing, and the nature of talent and composition. We'll forgive you if you wiff at somone's strawman every now and then.


sibyline


Apr 4, 2006, 12:40 PM

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In Reply To
I also wouldn't be surprised if brillant writers are better critiquers.


I agree with Clench here. Or, more than that, I'm more prone to respect a critiquer's perspective if I like their work. The only problem I've encountered with writers I admire in workshop is when their attention is pulled in different directions and they get busy, which means they spend less time on your manuscript. Otherwise, I tend to get what I perceive to be the best-quality feedback from writers whose work I also admire.

Oh, and Clench, I think part of the reason you make statements like "That's all I'm saying" a lot, is because a lot of your arguments tend to sound caustic, so people react to that instead of what you may actually be saying. One thing I've noticed on the Internet is that because we don't have body language and physical expression to soften our words, I try to make my writing less aggressive than when I'm actually talking, since the person doesn't have the benefit of seeing how goofy I look.


sarandipidy


Apr 4, 2006, 1:10 PM

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Re: [sibyline] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

<<Or, more than that, I'm more prone to respect a critiquer's perspective if I like their work.>>

I just think that this mentality is a little flawed, unless you plan to keep your writing within the incestuous 'community of writers.' I have found myself in that situation before: almost subconsciously disregarding the advice of those whose work I didn't find to be 'good.' It's an understandable reaction. But your readers are not all writers; some are people who simply appreciate literature. For example, many literary scholars can't write a word.

One example: an online friend of mine attends a pretty prestigious MFA program (the most expensive one--can you guess?). He had reluctantly showed a poem to an old woman on the subway who had asked to see it, and she gave him some thoughts. Interestingly, she found something in his poem--saw something working in it--that not one person in his workshop had noticed. This lady on the bus who had never stepped foot in an MFA program herself.

Of course we should take the mathematician's advice for a math problem. But this is art. Sometimes people without breathtaking artistic talent can have really important angles to add to your work. In many cases, those people--accountants, high school English teachers--will be your readers. Likewise, someone in your workshop whose work you don't admire might still be giving you better advice than the more admirable one. My workshop always had lots of disagreements between writers with different levels of talent. I agreed with both camps at different times.

It's also dangerous to always take the advice of someone you admire. That's why people come out of programs writing exactly like their professors, instead of themselves. My two cents.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 1:22 PM

Post #114 of 235 (2739 views)
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Re: [sarandipidy] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

I would caution you from conflating literary criticism with workshop critiquing.

Yes, many great writers aren't good theorists or literary critics, and vice versa. But a workshop isn't asking for criticism ala Harold Bloom. They are asking for more craft tips and suggestions.

its more akin to working on a painting and wondering if you are using a good brush technique. Do you go ask an art theorist how to mix your colors better or do you ask a painter?


sarandipidy


Apr 4, 2006, 1:23 PM

Post #115 of 235 (2738 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I think I misunderstood what you meant by 'top program.' I thought you were referring to those few schools--similar to Harvard, Yale, Princeton--and not, say, approximately 30 schools. I do think that the more selective schools will have "better" writers (though there will always be exceptions) than those who accept, like, 80% of their applicants. And yes, I was talking about the workshop environment--feedback--and not personal skill.

But I also don't like blanket statements such as, "It's important to attend a top program to have a good peer group." You never know until you go. Some people at top programs will dislike their peer groups no matter how talented most of them might be. Lots of talented people will give poor advice, especially if there is a *stylistic* difference involved.


sarandipidy


Apr 4, 2006, 1:28 PM

Post #116 of 235 (2735 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

I wasn't conflating literary criticism, I was using that as an example of readers. Similar to the lady on the bus who may not know a thing about theory.

I would ask a painter for brush technique. But there is much more to writing than craft, and interpretive feedback from a reader, and not a writer, can yield unexpected angles and perspectives on your work.


sibyline


Apr 4, 2006, 1:54 PM

Post #117 of 235 (2721 views)
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Re: [sarandipidy] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you're conflating two arguments here. My comments were confined specifically to a workshop environment. My family reads my work on a regular basis, as do various friends and pretty much whoever feels like reading and giving me ideas. So what I'm really talking about is the specific feedback one tends to be looking for in workshop.

I stand by what I've said. I obviously wouldn't ignore someone's feedback just because I don't like his or her work, but in my observation, I tend to gain more from people who are able to apply some of the lessons they dispense to their own writing. Often, these are not people who write like me. Actually, they tend to be people who are doing things with their fiction that I like, but find difficult to do in my own work for whatever reason.


__________



Apr 4, 2006, 2:19 PM

Post #118 of 235 (2707 views)
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Re: [sarandipidy] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

Hmmm...two interesting points to latch on to:


In Reply To
Lots of talented people will give poor advice, especially if there is a *stylistic* difference involved.



Do you mean to say that, the majority of the time, we give advice that is only suited to a style similar to our own? I'm still wrestling with this one. I think it makes sense to find people who share your sensibility--a group that writes wacky, postapocalyptic fabulisms, if that's your thing. But on the other hand, in my own limited, undergrad experience, I often got the best advice from students with an opposing sensibility--in my case, those who stressed plot and character, clear, simple writing, and a slew of 'traditional' things I still tend to look down on or not entirely understand. That criticism worked kind of like a governmental checks and balances system; it tended to round out my work with insights that my similar minded peers could not provide.

Still, I don't have a clue how much I should let this stuff guide my decisions.



In Reply To

But there is much more to writing than craft.



I'm tempted to say that any effect can be quantified. Otherwise, we're dealing in mysticism. Everything is bound up in words, right there on the page. You might say it's all craft.

What makes a reader sad, angry, or hopeful, gives the impression of 'genius' or 'a born writer' or 'artist' vs. 'hack',--isn't it all reducible to style, to diction, syntax, and the like? Isn't a 'true artist' just someone who makes good, consistent choices?





six five four three two one 0 ->


sovietsleepover


Apr 4, 2006, 3:00 PM

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Re: Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

Maybe we're due a reminder on here that, while argument can be useful, engaging in long debates over semantics & minutae isn't constructive for anyone. In five months Clench Milton will have a loving community of writers whose own minutae he can nitpick on. For now, let's not feed the trolls unless they actually have something to say.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 3:17 PM

Post #120 of 235 (2681 views)
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Re: [sovietsleepover] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

If you actually red the thread soviet, it would be quite obvious that it was others nitpicking what I was saying and trying to play semantics games. Whatever my faults here, nitpicking semantics and minutae are not among them.

But thanks for adding so much to the subject at hand, you clearly have so much to say...


Quote

I'm tempted to say that any effect can be quantified. Otherwise, we're dealing in mysticism. Everything is bound up in words, right there on the page. You might say it's all craft.


I think I agree with this. What is there to writing other than craft? I'm guessing the answer will be some vague concepts that can't fully be explaind. It is like when people speculate on what a writer was "feeling" at the time they wrote a book, as if a writer's emotions were static over the months and months the book was written and edited. Writing is talent/genius expressed through a craft. A feeling on the page is something crafted through words.


I also agree with Junior Maas that writers, at least writers worth their salt, are able to judge a piece based on what it is trying to accomplish. A good writer can respect writing not in their style. Surely we all read and love work in a variety of styles.



HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 3:33 PM

Post #121 of 235 (2674 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

Quote

I'm tempted to say that any effect can be quantified. Otherwise, we're dealing in mysticism. Everything is bound up in words, right there on the page. You might say it's all craft.


I think I agree with this. What is there to writing other than craft? I'm guessing the answer will be some vague concepts that can't fully be explaind.



I'm an advocate of craft, but the reality is that the difference between good writing and great writing is in that area that transcends craft. If every effect could be quantified, and it was all craft, it would simply be a question of working dilligently and we could all put out works of universal genius. Almost anybody can become an excellent housepainter if they really want to learn how. Almost nobody can become an excellent writer.
Of course the answer to what is there other than craft is a vague concept that can't fully be explained. If it could fully be explained then MFA programs would offer "genius writer or your money back" offers.
As for critiquing in a workshop: a good critique is one that takes into account the work itself and what is required to make that work better within the framework of the particular work and what can and should be accomplished by the story. That is critique. If your comments are on the basis of not liking that particular style (as opposed to thinking the particular style is not correct for the story), it is just criticism and not critique.
As the writer, however, one of the most important things you can do in a workshop is to carefully filter all of the comments on your story. (Though it's a good bet that if 10 out of 10 people in the workshop don't get the story, it's not 'cause you are super brilliant, it's 'cause it's confusing or poorly written).


sibyline


Apr 4, 2006, 3:37 PM

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In Reply To
But thanks for adding so much to the subject at hand, you clearly have so much to say...


I don't agree with Soviet in thinking of you as a troll, but I do wish to point out that I interpret comments like these as clearly inviting an angry response. So I wouldn't call you a troll, though I would probably describe you as trolly in certain circumstances.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 3:41 PM

Post #123 of 235 (2664 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting. I would interpret it the opposite way, that soviet's comments were inviting an angry response.
In most internet forums, calling a person a troll is considered unacceptable and is immediatly deleted by moderators. Popping in with nothing to say at all with the subject at hand, but only posting an ad hominem is pretty much the definition of trolling and certainly hopes for an angry response.


HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 3:49 PM

Post #124 of 235 (2658 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

Clench Million: you seem to engender a hell of a lot of angry responses. Do you really think that it's all about the other people all the time?


sibyline


Apr 4, 2006, 3:53 PM

Post #125 of 235 (2656 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm trying to help you out here. The problem as I see it is that soviet has been a longtime poster to this board and I've seen many of his/her posts from the archives. Pretty much all of them have been reasoned, and did not provoke any angry responses. The fact that s/he called you a troll is a matter of perspective. But it does seem suspicious that you've gotten into a lot of arguments with people here who are not normally prone to argument. It could be that we're all wrong. But chances are, we all perceive the a similar kind of belligerent vein in your writing style that prompts these kinds of responses. If this is not what you intend, the onus is on you to modify your style to suit the board, rather than expecting a whole group of people to read between the lines and interpret your words as benign when a lot of us are clearly interpreting them as overly aggressive.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 3:54 PM

Post #126 of 235 (3442 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

HopperFu:

Perhaps the problem is that the word "craft" is a bit vague. My dictionary just defines it as "skill in doing something, especially in the arts."
I think I understand what you mean by craft though and I get and mostly agree with what you are saying.

But I think the essential point here is that, even if writing isn't all craft, it is the craft aspect that you are asking for help on in a workshop. Workshop critiquing is like telling someone if this or that segment is too long or saying character X is underdeveloped or suggesting two paragraphs should be switched, etc.

I brought up craft to say to sarandipity that workshop critique is more about the craft part and, as such, it seems likely that someone more skilled in writing will have more to say on the craft side. This isn't the be-all end-all of critique and there is nothing wrong with getting advice from non-writers. But in the specific case of workshops, I think being with strong writers can only be helpful.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 4:00 PM

Post #127 of 235 (3437 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

Who said its all about the other people? I'm well aware many of my posts are caustic and sometimes they provoke people. I don't personally see this as a problem. The problem (again, for me) is when their responses are irrational, fallicious or hypocritical.
If people can't handle a discussion or argument with a good level of thought, then yes, that is their problem.

I don't mind that people argue with me, I just mind when they argue poorly.

But really, this is all very off-topic and boring. If you have a real problem with me, why not take it to PM?
This discussion is fairly interesting barring these side posts.


HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 4:06 PM

Post #128 of 235 (3429 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

Ah yes, I agree. One of the major problems with many of these sort of arguments is that all of the definitions are terribly vague.
When I think of craft, I think of it as the equivelent for a painter: craft is learning how to mix paints, choose brushes, stretch canvas, etc.
You still need the "magic" (or whatever you want to call it) to create brilliance. You can also become a brilliant painter without the craft part of it (Basquit (sp?) and othe rexamples), but I think the craft helps.

Given a choice, I'd rather be with stronger writers just because I'd rather read better work. More important, I think you get more out of critiquing in workshops than you do out of being critiqued. Probably 90% or more of what people say about your story is not terribly helpful, but what you find in other people's stories often says a lot about your own work.


Edited for this: this post is in reference to CM's prior post about craft, etc.


(This post was edited by HopperFu on Apr 4, 2006, 4:13 PM)


edwriter



Apr 4, 2006, 4:09 PM

Post #129 of 235 (3422 views)
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Re: [sibyline] and to take things back in another direction... [In reply to] Can't Post

OK--anyone want to get back to the original topic, to the extent possible?

I don't know how many of you know about The Writer magazine's Online Poetry Spotlight. For the next several months, I think, they'll be spotlighting a reader-submitted poem along with professional critiques. You can now see the first set of poem/responses online.

For the link (plus a link to a prior post explaining the project) check my blog here:


http://practicing-writing.blogspot.com/...oetry-spotlight.html

I really have minimal experience with poetry critiques. What do those who know about it think? Anything applicable there to workshopping?

Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 4:12 PM

Post #130 of 235 (3415 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

Hopper:

I think we totally agree here. What you are saying about "magic" is what I meant when I said "Writing is talent/genius expressed through a craft."

If you don't have the genius, you are never going to be a great writer. The vaguness is that I'm not sure if we want to call talent/genius "skill."


Quote
More important, I think you get more out of critiquing in workshops than you do out of being critiqued.Probably 90% or more of what people say about your story is not terribly helpful, but what you find in other people's stories often says a lot about your own work.


Thank you.
This was the what sparked off the big argument with jstgerman. This is what I meant before. Workshops primary purpose should be to teach you how to critique. The benefits you get from people actually workshopping your story aren't as important and normally aren't as helpful.



motet
Dana Davis / Moderator
e-mail user

Apr 4, 2006, 4:14 PM

Post #131 of 235 (3412 views)
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In Reply To
I'm well aware many of my posts are caustic and sometimes they provoke people. I don't personally see this as a problem.



But it is a problem for many, many patrons here and that makes it a problem for the board.

Sibyline had a calm, reasonable and helpful suggestion, Clench. You may not want to follow her advice but I suggest that do.


(This post was edited by motet on Apr 4, 2006, 4:16 PM)


edwriter



Apr 4, 2006, 4:17 PM

Post #132 of 235 (3407 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

Just curious what others think about this idea:

I think I've made it clear, at various points, how important I think it is for the workshop instructors to teach critiquing. This is why I started the thread! I wanted to get more insights into this.

And I definitely agree, as I think I've already stated, that our individual abilities to critique are paramount, both for our own creative work and for any future writing students we may welcome into our classrooms.

But isn't it then logical that everyone benefits: to the extent that all the members of the workshop improve their critiquing skills, isn't it more likely that others' comments can, in fact, be more useful than we've come to expect?

Best,
Erika D.


sibyline


Apr 4, 2006, 4:20 PM

Post #133 of 235 (3401 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm posting publicly because we're in an online community context, and I think it's important to address these modes of argumentation.

It's one thing to be provocative. It's another thing to be unnecessarily sarcastic (i.e. oh, that's *so* helpful), boastful (oh, i'm surprised you haven't seen anything publishable in undergrad workshops, i've been nominated for a pushcart) and insulting (i.e. i can't think of a specific instance right now but i'm sure others can). Trying to provoke unnecessarily angry responses from people is for me a pretty accurate definition of a troll.

So I'm disengaging as of this post. I've concluded that you offer more bait than meat.


HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 4:23 PM

Post #134 of 235 (3395 views)
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In Reply To
I've concluded that you offer more bait than meat.



I actually prefer donuts to meat.


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 4:24 PM

Post #135 of 235 (3394 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

As far as I can tell, the people who have been getting in arguments with me are the exact same people that I see getting in long arguments with other P&W people. In essence, they seem like the people who like being provoked.
But maybe its a coincidence and they get in all these arguments always because of the other people.


sarandipidy


Apr 4, 2006, 4:38 PM

Post #136 of 235 (3381 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

?? Are you talking about me? I rarely get in arguments with people here, or people in general.

I'm just going to say that I 'agree and disagree' with all of you, because I agree with some parts of posts and disagree with others, and there is no need for me to pick apart the responses I've received because they all have their 'good points.' It's all semantics right now (i.e. "what is craft?" and "what is critique?"), and those kinds of discussions can go on and on and on...


Clench Million
Charles

Apr 4, 2006, 4:40 PM

Post #137 of 235 (3379 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Troll feeding [In reply to] Can't Post

When someone has nothing to say on a subject but only offers an ad hom about how someone else doesn't have anything to say, that is the definition of trolling. Is a sarcastic response "necessary"? Nothing is necessary online, but if anything calls for sarcasm that kind of hyprocrisy does.

I don't like to boast and I'm sure I have less to boast about than many a poster here. I'm not terribly accomplished. I think your parody of me there is quite inacurate. The only time I ever brought up the pushcart nomination was when someone specifically asked about the publications of people going into MFAs on this board and even specially asked if people were pushcart worthy. It was very on topic and said jokingly (as in, I said I didn't have a chance of winning).

Honestly, I think I've bragged far less than most posters on this board and have only brought up stuff in subject. Yes, I slipped up earlier in this thread and sounded far more bragging than I actually was. I really did find it surprsing that she has never seen publishible work in grad workshops, as I've known several people (taking myself out here) who have been published in impressive journals from work they handed in to undergrad workshops and barely revised at all.

I would expect this to happen fairly often in MFAs.

ETA: What I meant above was that I can see how the comment here sounded like bragging. But if you've been reading my posts, you would know that was an aberration.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Apr 4, 2006, 4:47 PM)


__________



Apr 4, 2006, 8:49 PM

Post #138 of 235 (3312 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

I'm an advocate of craft, but the reality is that the difference between good writing and great writing is in that area that transcends craft. If every effect could be quantified, and it was all craft, it would simply be a question of working dilligently and we could all put out works of universal genius. Almost anybody can become an excellent housepainter if they really want to learn how. Almost nobody can become an excellent writer.

I find the house painter analogy a bit soggy. Can we try football? Like say, what the Dallas Cowboys do can be learned by anyone, and certainly no one considers them geniuses. At the professional level, even minute advantages confer huge rewards. And I think it's kind of the same with writing. You can look at how Dion is able to score that T.D., even understand the mechanics of his victory dance, but to mimic those actions is another story. It might be beyond your grasp, even after years of effort, but the fact is you understand what's behind it. Mostly genetics and hard work--and your own hard work will bring you closer to those goals. There's no mystery involved. No one ever has to sit around and wonder, Am I really a football player? What will make me a real football player, not just someone who plays football? To me, when we talk about writing, those questions sound equally ridiculous.

I guess I find the romanticism a bit harmful. It functions as an excuse, as an apology, a call to laziness--even as a way to remove the steam from someone's hard work ("Well of course, he's a genius; he's got that one thing."). I don't deny what can't be covered in a writing program, like timeliness, or reader reception, or universality, etc. (Though, come to think of it, universality might warrant a closer look). I just don't think that's where that specialness that we're seeking lies. I tell you, the best writing class I ever had wasn't a workshop, it was a seminar on the linguistic investigation of literature, taught by a world renowned linguist. We were all writers in that class, and the first day we were told to jettison our ideas of hazy transcendence. We looked for corporeal explanations of tone, emotion, it factor, whatever, and we found them. It was very refreshing, and kind of heartening for many people. It gave us the sense that literature is understandable, however obvious that sounds, and through explanation, not superstition, it can be mastered--we had permission to move a little closer to that touchdown dance.


In Reply To


[sibyline] I don't agree with Soviet in thinking of you as a troll, but...I interpret comments like these as clearly inviting an angry response. So I wouldn't call you a troll, though I would probably describe you as trolly in certain circumstances.

Well played! Isn't this Sartre, in a nutshell?


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Apr 4, 2006, 8:56 PM)


HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 9:06 PM

Post #139 of 235 (3302 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

So are you arguing that anybody can become a great writer? That literature is something that can be mastered by anybody as long as they understand the explanation?

I don't think so.

I'll use your analogy. Doesn't matter how much I train, study, even take steroids, I'll never, ever, ever be as fast or as strong as Deon Sanders.

Same thing with writing. Doesn't matter how hard most people study, write, work, try to understand writing. Most writers will never achieve anything close to greatness.


__________



Apr 4, 2006, 9:13 PM

Post #140 of 235 (3298 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm standing by it!

But that's indeed what I said about football, er, writing.

I think many people could become great writers if they were interested and driven enough. I've known people with zero talent, who showed me their crappy stories when they were in college, who are now publishing in good journals several years later. How about just 'published writer', then? I'm not talking about your all-time favorite writer, or anything.


six five four three two one 0 ->


HopperFu


Apr 4, 2006, 9:35 PM

Post #141 of 235 (3284 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

Yeah, I'd buy published writer. I do think work and craft can take you from crap to decent. It's getting from decent to great that is mysterious.


libbyagain


Apr 5, 2006, 5:48 PM

Post #142 of 235 (3239 views)
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In Reply To
I also wouldn't be surprised if brillant writers are better critiquers.


I agree with Clench here. Or, more than that, I'm more prone to respect a critiquer's perspective if I like their work. The only problem I've encountered with writers I admire in workshop is when their attention is pulled in different directions and they get busy, which means they spend less time on your manuscript. Otherwise, I tend to get what I perceive to be the best-quality feedback from writers whose work I also admire.


I can't resist chiming in to this though usually I just enjoy browsing the MFA thread as I eat dinner and dread the start of my night class.

I've noticed something really interseting in workshops of my work, which is, respondents don't so much respond in some sort of correlation to the quality of the work they write; more, they respond in some sort of correlation to the quality of the work they read. Lots of times the two are related. I think we end up writing like what we read--something that Fred Leebron pointed out in a workshop at Squaw Valley and I've noticed since to be true--and if we're lucky we've read good stuff instead of garbage and it sinks in and we aren't grammatical nincompoops etc.

On a related note, I think that respondents who are WIDELY read are much better respondents, generally. For instance, if I read mainly Larry McMurtree and write like that too, then okay and I'll recognize the "quality" of another McMurtree-type, but Henry James-ian will be Greek to me.

And frankly, that notion above is the way I WISH MFA programs would use the GRE. Screen out folks who just haven't read very much, yet. . .

fwiw. Cantankerous discussion here, at times--but very enjoyable to me, esp. avec tuna salad and minestrone.

Elizabeth


Windiciti



Apr 6, 2006, 1:39 PM

Post #143 of 235 (3179 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] craft vs. art, criticisms vs. critique [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you put it very well, Hopperfu when you said:
"....It's getting from decent to great that's mysterious."

I don't know this, but I suspect that most of us who have applied to various writing programs are at least decent or "competent" writers. One school which rejected me said I was a "competent" writer, but not deep or gritty enough.

Another school's Director, which accepted me, for a Low RES MFA, said that they could certainly teach skills, but one of the hardest to teach was "pacing," and I seemed to have done that very well in my fiction portfolio. Because he was the only person, besides the first school I called, who spoke about my writing, and in a positive way,
I was delighted, and wanted to know more. He told me one of the best things I wanted to hear about my writing---that he wanted to know more about the story and what happened to my characters so he kept on reading till the end!

After so many rejections, it was great to hear this!

But the thing is, Hopperfu, I really have doubts about whether I will ever get to "great." And, as you can imagine, this is VERY hard to admit. But it is a nagging little doubt that is with me almost constantly. Being rejected by WWC and Bennington has given me great pause. I'm questioning my own aptitude most of the time now.

I wish I had applied to Vermont and found out if they would have accepted me, but I had to make some choices due to lack of time and I picked out the two that sounded the most prestigious.

Yes, I have two acceptances, one Low Res and one to NU, not an MFA, but I can't go to both. I'm still unsure of what to do but will take Tom Kealy's advice and go where the $$ is. Wherever that is.

On a happier not, I feel that perhaps some of these debilitating doubts WILL vanish when I am in a workshop, in contact with others and producing creditable work.

Again, what you said has such a ring of truth for me that I wonder what gave ME the idea that I cd. write anything someone wants to read?


chapons
Megan

Apr 6, 2006, 2:36 PM

Post #144 of 235 (3147 views)
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Re: [libbyagain] Grad school [In reply to] Can't Post

I ABSOLUTELY agree! In my (albeit limited) experience, I have also found that the better critiquers are the better readers. They have often, but not always, also been the better writers in the workshop.


viviandarkbloom


May 25, 2006, 2:37 AM

Post #145 of 235 (3258 views)
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Websites [In reply to] Can't Post

I had to post this link somewhere.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2006/5/9wayne.html

good stuff.


(This post was edited by motet on Jun 1, 2006, 9:43 PM)


Aubrie


May 25, 2006, 12:40 PM

Post #146 of 235 (3238 views)
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Re: [viviandarkbloom] Websites [In reply to] Can't Post

While you're there, read this one, too:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2006/5/4wiencek.html


Aubrie


Jun 1, 2006, 3:12 PM

Post #147 of 235 (3003 views)
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Re: [Aubrie] Websites [In reply to] Can't Post

McSweeny's is now doing a contest based on these writing prompts.
1,000 words or less from one prompt.
Send story to 13prompts@mcsweeneys.net in the body of the email by 5pm, June 21st.
There are prizes but I don't feel like typing them out here unless someone is interested and then you can pm me. I'm sure it's on the mcsweeny's website as well!


liliya


Jun 20, 2006, 9:43 PM

Post #148 of 235 (2868 views)
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Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Ok, I've read two stories to workshop for my upcoming program. I'm wondering what quality of writing other people are finding in their programs... Stories written by students, I mean. I really don't want to sound too harsh, or like I expected O Henry prize winning stories, but honest to goodness, I haven't read anything as (I hate to say it, but I'm going to) bad as this in a long time. I'm thinking high school. I don't want to get into details, but I'll say it has problems with even basic things like point of view, grammar, and sentence structure. And there's no plot- none at all- to speak of. Just details. I'm writing to ask because I really did expect a higher quality- I mean, at least a little higher!- from the other students. I normally post under another name and I don't want to name my school. I just want to see if other people have encountered this.


(This post was edited by liliya on Jun 21, 2006, 6:07 PM)


pongo
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Jun 20, 2006, 10:36 PM

Post #149 of 235 (2863 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

AS a student and as an editor, I've seen a lot of godawful crap in and coming out of MFA programs. Some very nice stuff, too. I suspect that even at the best programs the quality is wildly variable.

Also, remember that a lot of people are putting rough drafts into workshops, while others are bringing in polished work. But there's still going to be a lot of crud.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Jun 21, 2006, 8:10 AM

Post #150 of 235 (2842 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I've posted this comment before I think: Surprise at the low quality of writing in workshops is almost a rite of passage for new MFA students. When I got my workshop packet before my first residency I was thinking there had to be some kind of mistake. That turned out to be an extreme case, but there've been some stories below MFA quality in all my workshops.

I'm at residency right now and I just raised this over lunch with one of my teachers. She said the admissions process isn't perfect; some people apply with stories that have been workshopped so often they've essentially been written by other people. There's not much anyone can do about that, and it's difficult to kick people out on the grounds of performance once they're in the program, though it does happen.

Another issue at Bennington, and this is particularly true in the low-res programs, is that once you're in the program you're expected to write at a much faster rate than most people are used to, especially early on, so that you're not writing on deadline later for your thesis. Lots of teachers want a new story or essay or 5-10 new poems every month from first-year students. That can produce some pretty raw stuff. My first workshop at Bennington, I brought a story I'd been working on for four months. Such stories don't really exist for continuing students. If you spent that long on one story you'd never graduate.

I'm entering my final term and putting together my thesis, which is looking like five stories and the first portion of a novel. It dawned on me, printing it all out at the college library for my new teacher to see, that only a couple of stories in my thesis are going to be truly finished when I graduate. So my best work is going to be completed after I leave, not while I'm here. I think that's probably true for most MFA students.


rooblue


Jun 21, 2006, 8:21 AM

Post #151 of 235 (2661 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I want to second what Pongo's written here. Often people submit for workshop stories that they know still have a ton of problems, because they want guidance about the direction of the story at an early stage. It's riskier to do this, rather than sending one's most polished stories, but in the long run it might be the best strategy. After all, why submit a story that is quite polished? Workshops shouldn't be about earning praise one's best work. They should be about helping a story-in-progress get better. That said, I have no idea what the case was with this particular writer whose work concerned you. But if you can, withhold judgement until you've read something by this writer that s/he considers his/her best work. It's not fair to judge a writer only by his/her workshop submission, since that's often rougher stuff. And POV violations are just that -- violations, not fatal flaws. You want proof, look at Chekhov's "Gusev."


liliya


Jun 21, 2006, 8:28 AM

Post #152 of 235 (2659 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks pongo and wiswriter, that's good to hear! Since I posted, I read another manuscript that nearly blew me away (in a good way), so that relieved me a little bit. After reading what you've both posted, I feel all better- it was just the initial panic of 'oh my god, are they just letting anyone in?! does that mean my stories are crap too?' I really did think that the quality was going to be quite a bit higher than what I'd been reading in previous workshops. Then again, it really shouldn't matter all that much since, as other people have noted, the main purpose of workshops is to become a better critiquer. If every manuscript is near perfect, what's there to say besides 'good job'?


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Jun 21, 2006, 9:06 AM

Post #153 of 235 (2651 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

As I've told lots of new students at Bennington, you'll find the writing to be worse than you expected, with blinding exceptions.

This is my last residency, and god willing, my last workshop. Ever. I'm taking away a group of trusted, objective readers and that'll be my "workshop" from now on. At this point I'm totally cynical about the workshop method. I've heard too much that's been just plain wrong. In two of my four MFA workshops, teachers have caught me in the hall after my work has been up and said, I hope you're not going to take most of that advice, I tried to stop it. Imagine if they taught music or painting this way, with a bunch of other beginners telling you what to do. When people ask me why I'm so prejudiced in favor of low-residency programs, the first thing I say is, you get taught primarily by the people who know what they're doing. What a concept. My top advice to anyone going into an MFA is to listen carefully to the teachers, draw them out on your work, and run any advice you're taking from anyone else past them first. Not that they're always right, either, but their batting average is way higher than your classmates'.


pongo
Buy this book!

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Jun 21, 2006, 11:44 AM

Post #154 of 235 (2638 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Something that wiswriter said a couple of messages back bears amplification. You -- and all your comrades -- are going to do your best work after you finish the MFA. That's because the program -- if it's any good at all -- is teaching you the process, not refining a particular piece of work. And once you know how to fish, so to speak, you need not be hungry again.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


__________



Sep 21, 2006, 4:34 AM

Post #155 of 235 (2551 views)
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Re: [pongo] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Anyone still have links to those MFA critique guidelines/suggestions pages, found on certain blogs?

I swear, someone posted them here or on Kealey's blog once upon a time. They were very helpful, suggesting, for instance, that one say, "Cutting this would really improve things in the second draft" instead of "This passage blows!".


six five four three two one 0 ->


Aubrie


Sep 21, 2006, 12:00 PM

Post #156 of 235 (2524 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Oooh. I've never seen the guidelines, but I'd be very interested in reading them.
Speak up if someone knows!


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Sep 21, 2006, 10:23 PM

Post #157 of 235 (2473 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Anyone still have links to those MFA critique guidelines/suggestions pages, found on certain blogs?

I swear, someone posted them here or on Kealey's blog once upon a time. They were very helpful, suggesting, for instance, that one say, "Cutting this would really improve things in the second draft" instead of "This passage blows!".


I made this post a few months ago in another thread - the source is a teacher and not a blog but it references the guideline you mention:

Writing is personal, so workshops inevitably get emotional sometimes. I've seen too many tears in workshop, in my MFA program and elsewhere. Two of the better workshop leaders I've had each had a simple rule that helped keep the workshop civil and constructive.

One teacher - the late Frank Conroy - asked students to refer to the story and not the author. That sounds so simple but you'd be surprised at how much it can help, just to say "I was uncomfortable with this passage" instead of "I didn't like what she did with this passage." It's also surprisingly difficult to do; you have to monitor yourself.

A teacher in my MFA program, Alice Mattison, asks students to avoid talking about the work in the past tense. So we say "this dialogue is feeling slow to me" or "this passage might want to speed up in the next draft" instead of "the dialogue was too slow." That gives the author faith that she can fix it rather than sending the message that the work is finished and "you screwed up."



__________



Sep 22, 2006, 2:44 AM

Post #158 of 235 (2454 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Wis.

That's the one I was thinking of. There are several more pages out there, somewhere.

Here are some suggestions from Amy Sterling Casil; they're for fiction, though the link references 'poetry':

http://members.aol.com/asterling/poetry/critguides.htm


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Sep 22, 2006, 2:45 AM)


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 11:29 AM

Post #159 of 235 (2371 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Belated thanks for your post!
I am having a very difficult time in a workshop. The quality of some of the writing, which others appear to admire, totally sucks in some cases, or sounds like gibberish to me. IMO a few pieces have been really good, not only storywise and stylewise, but also grammatically! Yeah, some of the folks seem clueless about grammar and punctuation.
The tuition is so high, and I'm paying for this MFA program myself.
It isn't that my writing is that great, but I'm just wondering what I'm going to learn...
Except maybe to pose my questions and comments in the type of format you indicated above! Because you know, everyone has to make a comment about EACH story. The instructor is expecting it.
Recently there was one so awful IMO, that I said nothing until the end, and now I wish I cd. take back my words! I said I was irritated by certain aspects of the style, that they made the dialogue and the story hard to follow, and that the time frames and flashbacks were very confusing for me!
I came home in a murderously bad temper, at myself, the writer, and the whole class! I just wondered if we're reading the same story, or if they know how to play the game!
I've taken workshops before, (non-credit), but they were less expensive, just as well-run, but with a hell of a lot of better writing.
As I write this, I have just figured that even though I've worked so hard in the other workshops both as a critic and a writer, there was less at stake than now,when I will be paying thousands out in tuition.******!!!!
I am so mad! And I have to keep my trap shut!


blueragtop


Oct 24, 2006, 12:36 PM

Post #160 of 235 (2357 views)
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Re: [Windiciti] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Windiciti,

I have thought about this a lot, and I've come to one conclusion. This is a business. An MFA program, especially one where you need to pay large sums of money, is a business. Academia is a business. MFA graduates need to get paid, so they work for a school. People who want MFAs go to school and pay, etc. It's just a big cycle, so people can get paid. That's my one big problem with the MFA. It's produced a ton of writers who don't write, they just sit and "teach." I've encountered people in workshops who should never write again (at normal workshops) but I've tried to be as polite as possible. However, at an MFA program, I feel that you might be able to voice your opinion a little more. Say what you need to say. We need to remember this is a business, someone needs to get paid, and someone needs to pay.


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 2:41 PM

Post #161 of 235 (2337 views)
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Re: [melos] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
It's produced a ton of writers who don't write, they just sit and "teach."


I hear this kind of comment a lot, especially from really anti-MFA people, but it seems to me to be either totally hyperbolic or just wrong. As we all know, there are far more MFA gradautes than there are spots teaching creative writing at universities. And as most writesr need an extra source of income, tons want to be teachers. As such, there is always lots of competition for spots and if you arne't published you aren't going to get a job, at least anywhere remotely respectable. End of story.

Now, if you want to say there are tons of writers who write badly and teach, I might believe you. But there aren't MFA teachers who haven't had a book or two published or at least had several stories/essays/pieces in high profile magazines.

It is true that it is a buisness, although mainly in the sense that all education is a buisness. Every degree out there is a buisness. That is how education works.


Windiciti:
Sorry to hear about your workshop problems. For me, grad school workshops have been a vast improvement on undergrad. In undergrad, I felt maybe one or two people had work that was publishable. In grad school, everyone except maybe one or two people are writing work I know could be polished up and published.

However, one thing you might want to keep in mind is that some people simply write horrible first drafts. Elizabeth Bishop is famous for having written really bad poems but then revising and revising them till they became masterpieces. Have you seen revisions of your classmates works? Maybe they improve dramatically after they've been workshopped and the writer goes home and revises.


Glinda Bamboo


Oct 24, 2006, 4:23 PM

Post #162 of 235 (2327 views)
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Re: [Windiciti] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I think there's an art to getting across constructive criticism without either sugarcoating it or going for the jugular. I've been in tons of workshops and I still approach each person's story very carefully as I critique it. You shouldn't have to withhold your real comments/suggestions for improvement at the sake of the author's feelings, but saying exactly what you think might not work, either. Anything overly harsh or heartless and the writer will shut down and ignore you. (And believe me, I've had to work really hard to be constructive and somewhat, sometimes positive when critiquing stories that I know have no shot at all.)

In any case, I can't stop this nagging, inappropriate desire to know which program you're in, Windiciti. But I guess it's not fair for someone to drag a program's name through the mud here if one person isn't digging it. But still. :)

Oh, and I echo the point that maybe you should check out the writers' revisions. Who here hasn't written a complete stinker of a story, only to revise it and bring it life later?


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 4:35 PM

Post #163 of 235 (2322 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
But I guess it's not fair for someone to drag a program's name through the mud here if one person isn't digging it. But still. :)


Hehe, me too. I actually searched though his/her posts to find it to, but I won't say. Up to Windiciti to do.

Anyway, one great thing about workshops is that it is the perfect place to experiment. One thing I like about my program is that they are very insistant on this, that you should go into workshop trying new things and not worry at this stage about publication.

I bring this up merely as another thing to keep in mind. Maybe some of the writers in your class are just trying new voices/styles they havne't mastered. Maybe they got into the program writing differnt material?

Also, as for the learning part, I think you often learn the most from critiquing bad stories. Seeing where other authors are failing is a great way to figure out what not to do yourself.


GDClark
George David Clark
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Oct 24, 2006, 5:04 PM

Post #164 of 235 (2316 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

For those of us who think we might teach creative writing at some point after our MFAs, perhaps it's helpful to consider your peer's work in the same way you would consider a student's. I have no complaints about the level of work being submitted in my workshop at UVa but there are certainly pieces coming from a different aesthetic than my own, sometimes radically different. In those cases my input is often structurally focused. Encouraging but honest. And I want also to engage aspects of the author's "style" that are personally distracting/displeasing. I think it comes down to an issue of tone. Are we as critics dismissive or the author and his/her work or are we committed to its improvement.

You have to realize that even in a graduate workshop where you're getting advice from skilled peers, 95% or more of their suggestions are trash (not relevant to your project, contadictory to other comments, too specific or too vague). But that valuable 5% most often comes from someone who didn't like the piece. Often they can at least tell you where they got lost even when they can't verbalize why. It seems like that sort of comment might often be most essential.


__________



Oct 24, 2006, 7:22 PM

Post #165 of 235 (2294 views)
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Re: [GDClark] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Clench, WindiCiti, GDClark, please tell me your teachers supply the majority of the input, comment-wise, and not the students.

That's the #1 thing worrying me right now. I know, I know, its great to learn how to critique (as if we don't already know)...but even if I'm not paying for my degree, I want to learn from the master. It's not really all about sitting around a table with five other dipsticks telling you to begin here or make it believable while that marginally published guy nods off, is it?

Ack!


six five four three two one 0 ->


Fear&Loathing


Oct 24, 2006, 7:49 PM

Post #166 of 235 (2289 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

How how much one writes (like most things) is probably a matter of degree. If you're taking workshops for credit, you have to be writing in order to pass and get your three-letter credentials. The more workshops, the more writing. Yet I've heard that one class a semester/quarter can take as much as 20 hours per week. That's a pretty large chunk of time that can suck up your energy.


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 8:01 PM

Post #167 of 235 (2285 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Clench, WindiCiti, GDClark, please tell me your teachers supply the majority of the input, comment-wise, and not the students.

That's the #1 thing worrying me right now. I know, I know, its great to learn how to critique (as if we don't already know)...but even if I'm not paying for my degree, I want to learn from the master. It's not really all about sitting around a table with five other dipsticks telling you to begin here or make it believable while that marginally published guy nods off, is it?

Ack!


I'm afraid I don't have the best news for you. No, in class teachers don't provide the majority of comments. In fact, they pretty much act as moderators, their main goal is to guide the discussion and make sure it is helpful and that enough ground is covered, etc. Certainly they throw their own votes in as well, but the majority of the talking is done by the students.

Have you taken a workshop before? This is how all mine were in undergrad as well. in fact, in some undergrad classes the teachers would appoint people to run the discussion for a particular story and wouldnt' say anything during that story's discussion. I don't think that happens in grad school, but...

I've never really heard of a workshop run differently than this, though maybe it is possible workshops exist where a teacher just lectures on the individual stories turned in. But then again would you really want to sit through a class where a the teacher is just lecturing on 2 "dipsticks" stories that you didn't even enjoy? Why not take said teacher's seminar or lecture class and watch them discuss Nabokov or something.

"as if we don't already know"? I have to disagree with you here. Most people are pretty horrible at critiquing fiction or poetry. It isn't an easy task. Even really good writers can be prety bad at it and you can watch people improve as they take more and more workshops (or I could in undergrad when I had the same people for multiple classes). I certainly feel like my ability to critique and analyze fiction has increased.

To somewhat allay your fears, I should point out that while the workshop class features mostly the students talking, the faculty provide their own comments and meet with students. Here at least, you meet with your teacher after everytime your story is workshopped and the teachers provide a few pages of comments plus line edits on the story. So you are getting both the dipstick and the master opinions.

EDIT: Actually, thinking about it a bit more my grad teacher probably makes her own comments and critiques during class as much as any individual student in addition to being a kind of moderator. Still, the majority of discussion is amongst students.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Oct 24, 2006, 8:07 PM)


JKicker
Jonathan

Oct 24, 2006, 9:12 PM

Post #168 of 235 (2268 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Ok here comes the idiot post of the day. I'm gambling that someone else here might also be wondering this and will hopefully benefit from my idiocy....off topic idiocy by the way.

How do you make that extra long dash when you're breaking off in mid-sentence? EXAMPLE "...and you seemed to fit the part pretty well*--* an old man with a greasey nose and attitude that ensured you didn't get invited to many Christmas parties.

Dumb sentence, but hopefully serviceable. Thanks!


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Oct 24, 2006, 9:15 PM

Post #169 of 235 (2267 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Remember that the function of workshops is not only to help you by critiquing your work; it is also to help you (and the others in the workshop) learn to do better critiques. If students didn't have the opportunity to give comments, they would not be learning much.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 9:35 PM

Post #170 of 235 (2263 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] [Junior Maas]Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

This is the format followed in EVERY workshop I've taken in the last 2 years, about 8 or 9 --- all non credit, including this one which is for credit.

The students make their comments first, but are not allowed to address the writer.
When everyone's finished, the teacher makes a few comments, then turns it over to the author.
The usual protocol is for the author to thank everyone for their comments, ask for clarification, and NEVER defend the story, or explain what he/she meant. The reason for this is that if it's not on the page it doesn't exist! Also, you the writer will never have a chance to justify or explain your printed story to future readers.

Also, Clench Million...you and others have made good points. The stories I am talking about are all first drafts. We have not yet seen anyone's revisions.
I appreciate your not sharing the name of my program, if you were able to figure it out!

This is my VERY FIRST CLASS in the program, so I shall have to see!
BTW my first story bombed horribly with this same group!


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 9:40 PM

Post #171 of 235 (2262 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I appreciated your astute comments on how to critique constructively Glinda!

And no, at this point I'd rather not say what program it is. This is only my first class, so I may be worrying about nothing.
Thanks!


Glinda Bamboo


Oct 24, 2006, 10:50 PM

Post #172 of 235 (2242 views)
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Re: [JKicker] dashes [In reply to] Can't Post

Ah, JKicker. Thank you for letting me discuss one of my favorite topics -- m-dashes and n-dashes!

To make an n-dash, you type a word, then a space, then two dashes in a row, and then another space and another word. In Microsoft Word, this will automatically turn into an n-dash.

To make an m-dash (slightly longer than an n-dash, with no spaces) you type a word, two dashes, then another word and a space, and again Word should format it.

It's one of my biggest pet peeves to see people using plain old dashes - like this - instead of n or m-dashes.

I prefer to use n-dashes in text to show that break in thought, but some publications (and the Chicago Manual of Style) use m-dashes as the standard. I guess I just never liked how m-dashes don't use spaces; it looks like the two words are squished together instead of spread apart a bit, which is what I feel these dashes accomplish in the text. I am grudgingly trying to accept the m-dash.

And now everyone officially knows that Glinda Bamboo is a nerd.


Aubrie


Oct 25, 2006, 12:16 AM

Post #173 of 235 (2227 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] dashes [In reply to] Can't Post

You beat me to it, or I would have exhibited my nerdiness as well.
I like em dashes.


__________



Oct 25, 2006, 2:35 AM

Post #174 of 235 (2214 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey Clench, others...

I've taken six workshops, four fiction (two with the same teacher), two poetry, at two different schools. The format was always the same, just a wee bit different than what WindiCiti describes: the author sits quietly, then asks for clarifications, goes home with written comments from the students, in a sort of letter format (Dear Bobby, here's where I thought your story sucked...) prepared before we had a chance to influence one another in class. The main difference I can tell is that during the critique, our teachers sort of commented on every student remark, agreeing or disagreeing, offering qualifications. I felt this helped us become better critiquers, just seeing how the teacher approached things. I would hate to see this disappear at the graduate level.

That said, it was hard to squeeze anything of value from these undergrad workshops. Not that there weren't good writers...but too often, when you did find serious, committed students, their comments were better suited for a lit class--showing you they understood your story, the symbolism, whatever, not offering advice on how you could improve it. That or their expectations were so low that when someone turned in a flawed, but competent story, the class was overwowed and just praised it (which is great, don't get me wrong, but not helpful). The good writers, who obviously read for pleasure, who knew how to critique a story, were often too shy to speak up; you had to say, during the little author question time, Look, I've read your stories, they're great, I know you have an opinion--what is it?!?! Tell me, please!)

The teachers seemed to make or break the class, and it was their insight you had to fight for. And there's problem #2. Rather than throwing up their hands and thanking Jeebus they got these gigs without published books, dedicating even the standard amount of time to student work, most treated their paltry commitments as an annoyance. A couple seemed to read our stories right before class. The comments they'd give were superficial, unhelpful, dealt largely with theme, no line edits or style help whatsoever. No writing advice. Again, too much like an English class, except for the student dedication part. The stories they told in class were so obviously unfelt and rehearsed, we'd find ourselves saying after workshop, Let's see, he went to MFA Program X, was taught by Teacher Y, so maybe that was Robert Olen Butler's tale we just heard?

So I guess in grad school I'm just hoping for more teacher involvement in class. And by involvement, I don't necessarily mean talking more than students, more just being prepared, mentally present, and somewhat helpful and unambiguous in their opinions and advice. I just assumed that at the graduate level, with such a low acceptance rate, the students do know how to be constuctive in class. I mean, they didn't just spontaneously become good writers--I'm guessing they read a lot, notice a lot, and can apply that in class. There's a list of maybe ten stock things, in all those creative writing instruction books. I'm guessing they know these things, and more importantly, know when to mention them in class.

What worries me, besides hearing WindiCiti's story, is my talks with a couple of other folks from, I dunno, top fifteen programs. They were both poetry folks, but one even dropped out because his teacher--one of my favorite poets--didn't teach. At all. Read the poems for the first time in class. Smoked a cigarette while students made comments.

!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Oct 25, 2006, 2:40 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 25, 2006, 3:25 AM

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The main difference I can tell is that during the critique, our teachers sort of commented on every student remark, agreeing or disagreeing, offering qualifications. I felt this helped us become better critiquers, just seeing how the teacher approached things. I would hate to see this disappear at the graduate level.


Well, like I said in my class at least (and in my friends classes here) the teacher both acts as a student in the sense they throw their opinions out as well and try to guide the discussion, so will ask people to be more specific or offer some other examples or will give a short lecture related to someone's point and illustrate the point futur, etc. So it doesn't dissapear here at least.

I hear you about undergrad. I didn't find the students helpful at all, but the teachers taught me a lot. However, so far I've found grad to be a good bit better in this regard. In undergrad most of the students didn't read widely and most weren't serious about writing (it was just a fine arts credit requirement). The ones who were serious didn't have any concept of how to deal with stories that weren't in the strict realist story with epiphany ending mode. In grad school, here at least, everyone is more widely read and more diversely read as well as serious. They have a better understanding of how to try and make a story successful in what it is trying to do, not what they would like it to do.

As for teachers not wanting to complete their meager commitments. That sucks. I guess I got lucky cause my undergrad teachers were very helpful and free with their time and my grad experience has been the same, so far.


Quote
So I guess in grad school I'm just hoping for more teacher involvement in class. And by involvement, I don't necessarily mean talking more than students, more just being prepared, mentally present, and somewhat helpful and unambiguous in their opinions and advice.


Well you'd love my teacher. She does extensive line edits through the whole story and types about two pages of comments before class, and during class she is always trying to be specific and force others to be specific in their advice and opinions.

But this kind of thing probably varies from teacher to teacher. It is just about getting the right professors.


Windiciti



Oct 25, 2006, 7:33 AM

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Well you'd love my teacher. She does extensive line edits through the whole story and types about two pages of comments before class, and during class she is always trying to be specific and force others to be specific in their advice and opinions


Yes, Clench, I'd say you've got a really great teacher there! "extensive line edits....two pages of comments before class"!

I've rec'd a few pencil squiggles, and a typewritten paragraph in reference to the squiggles, which I didn't entirely understand.
I like the professor very much, but I'm not getting the solid type of advice I've rec'd from other grad teachers.
It's more about " tell me more about these characters, (not the main ones), expand the story, etc." not much which I can work with, nothing I regard as solid advice yet.


sibyline


Oct 26, 2006, 7:20 PM

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of course a lot of this depends on the teacher, but here at cornell, the standard seems to be individual consultations with the faculty member after your story gets workshopped, so the workshop itself mainly focuses on the feedback of other students, with the professor acting mainly as facilitator.

i personally find this feedback extremely valuable, especially because it comes from people who are, shall we say, in the trenches with me. the thing about the greats is that they've already found their voice and there's something about getting feedback from people who are on the road with you that makes a big difference. fiction is an evolving form, and people who have taught it for a long time tend to utilize already-established ideas. it's great to hear from people who are still undergoing wild experiments.

there are definitely people in workshop whose read on my work i don't necessarily agree with, but that will always happen. but when i've implemented changes in revision, i have to say that i've so far taken other students' advice as much as the professor's.


Elika619


Oct 27, 2006, 1:52 PM

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Hey Sibyline! Quick question for you (not sure if you know but thought I would give it a shot!). I am applying to Cornell and am really excited about it. I am in the midst of my on-line application, however my recommenders are having trouble with the on-line recommender form. Cornell's website has a supplemental form for recommenders. Do you know if it's ok if I submit my application electronically, but send in my LORs as hardcopies?

Thanks!


renapoo


Oct 27, 2006, 2:58 PM

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I don't know what Sib's take on this is, but I'm applying to Cornell too and am sending in my recs as hard copies. I don't think it matters much, the on-line forms seem to be more for the recommender's convenience than the schools.


Vermont


Oct 27, 2006, 7:27 PM

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(This post was edited by Vermont on Jan 3, 2007, 10:02 AM)


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Oct 27, 2006, 7:54 PM

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This is why I can't imagine going through an MFA program that's all or mostly workshops. My workshop experience at Bennington hasn't been quite that bad; most of the commentary has been polite and at least trying to be helpful. The most constructive written commentary I've had on a story was by one of the multi-published novelists.

But on balance the workshops are definitely the most disappointing thing. With the rapid proliferation of programs I don't think MFA workshops are populated with enough students who know or care what they're talking about. I wonder if creative writing programs will ever de-emphasize workshops and start having the faculty teach the students like every other field.


Vermont


Oct 27, 2006, 8:49 PM

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(This post was edited by Vermont on Jan 3, 2007, 10:03 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 28, 2006, 3:16 PM

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What programs are all or mostly workshops? Or are you talking about low residency stuff?
Cause I get the impression regular MFA programs are all pretty much the same with one workshop a semester.

"I wonder if creative writing programs will ever de-emphasize workshops and start having the faculty teach the students like every other field."

Well, this is a fine arts degree. I think all the MFAs require you to actually create art and turn it in.





Banyon


Oct 28, 2006, 3:30 PM

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Clench,

I think that they prefer getting feedback from instructors (professional writers) than fellow students. So they prefer the low-res route where they just have a mentor to read/critique their work for most of the semester (and only a brief residency period with workshops).

Personally, I learn a lot from my peers in workshop. In most of the workshops I've taken, I've gotten wonderful feedback from at least a few people in the class (and it's not hard to pick out which students "get" your work/vision and want to help you pursue that). I've found some of the flaws in my own writing by seeing those flaws repeated in others' work. Also, other workshoppers occasionally "get" my work better than our professor, though it doesn't happen often. Who knows--maybe I've just gotten lucky as far as my classmates go. Even in high school workshops I learned a lot.

-Banyon


blueragtop


Oct 28, 2006, 3:48 PM

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Earlier this month, quite a few of us were talking about "top" programs vs. mid-range to average schools, and this workshop problem Windiciti brought up is a very serious concern for me. An MFA is great, but I want to work with the best people. Bad writing certainly outweighs good writing, and I want to be in a program with the best possible writers. I work hard at this and if I'm in a workshop, I always give the best feedback possible. I look at the work from all possible views and give the best advice I can. I've been in some workshops where the students aren't well-read and have no idea what the hell is going on. Outside of funding, this is the most important factor for me: quality of peers. Sure, you never know who will be your peers, but the top schools have a lot more applicants and they can really pick who they want.

Since academia is such a business, I'm sure that tons of bad writers are getting MFAs and I really want to avoid them as best as possible. If I had to guess, I say the top 10-15 programs have extremely good writers, and then after that it gets murky. Also, if I had to guess, I think the talent in low-residency programs might not be that great. I really believe the best writers are at the top programs.


wilmabluekitty
Wilma Weant Dague

Oct 28, 2006, 4:32 PM

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In Reply To

What programs are all or mostly workshops? Or are you talking about low residency stuff?
Cause I get the impression regular MFA programs are all pretty much the same with one workshop a semester.

Not in my experience, which I admit is dated and limited, I usually took two workshops and one academic course per semester. Of course, that included different genres--i.e. poetry and novel-writing or non-fiction the same semester.

Some workshop teachers are more than others, more willing to voice their opinion or play devil's advocate. Others are more available/honest one-on-one. Still, I've never had one sit back and let peers do all the work.


rooblue


Oct 28, 2006, 4:52 PM

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Melos,
I hope you'll rethink your assumption about the calibre of writers in low-residency programs. Most people choose low-residency not because they can't get into regular MFA programs, but because the circumstances of their lives won't permit that choice. I'm about to graduate from Warren Wilson and I can tell you that the students there are for the most part extremely talented and hard-working. There is a range of skill of course -- some of us are more experienced than others -- but the quality of writing in general is very high. I regularly see my peers' names in major journals, and many of them have at least one book out. On the poetry side, the poetry editor at Slate graduated not too long ago. I'm not sure of the exact percentages, but I think Warren Wilson accepts around 10 percent of its applicants each term. Surely that is at least as competitive as many regular MFA programs.


writerle


Oct 28, 2006, 7:33 PM

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I can second that. I'm at Vermont College and, so far, the quality of writing that I have seen in my workshops is very high. Vermont College alumnae have a very impressive publication record. Also, many of the top low-res programs are fairly competitive and have a relatively low acceptance rate. I don't think it's fair to assume that someone enters a low-res program simply because they weren't good enough to get into one of the "real" MFA programs. In my case, I have a husband and four children and do not live anywhere near a university with a traditional MFA program. It simply wasn't feasible for me to sell my house, make my husband quit his job, pull my kids out of school, and move to someplace such as Iowa for two years. There are many different phases of life, and not all of us are at the same place when we finally decide to pursue our dreams.


Windiciti



Oct 28, 2006, 9:51 PM

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Of course you two are right!
Low Res programs like Bennington and Warren Wilson are VERY select. Both turned ME down, even though I am a pretty decent writer.

So maybe what I am experiencing in one of the places which DID accept me, and actually had the MOST difficult application process IMO, is not surprising, or maybe it was the luck of the draw of how the other students who registered for the same class write.

As I've said before, I've seen better stories at Iowa and Madison's summer workshops, where EVERYONE could get in!
But, I don't have enough information yet...this is my first trimester.


sibyline


Oct 29, 2006, 1:15 PM

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I seem to remember doing that, submitting my application electronically and doing hardcopy LOR's. So it seems like it should be fine.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Oct 29, 2006, 11:36 PM

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In Reply To
What programs are all or mostly workshops? Or are you talking about low residency stuff?
Cause I get the impression regular MFA programs are all pretty much the same with one workshop a semester.

"I wonder if creative writing programs will ever de-emphasize workshops and start having the faculty teach the students like every other field."

Well, this is a fine arts degree. I think all the MFAs require you to actually create art and turn it in.




When I researched MFA programs some of the residential programs sold themselves blatantly as requiring little of their students outside workshops. Students in a couple of programs told me they didn't even have to show up for the craft courses - one said it was an A if you came and a B if you didn't.


Windiciti



Oct 30, 2006, 10:54 AM

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My residential program is 50% of each. But frankly, I wish I'd applied to a 100% workshop type program!
However, I am going to make damn sure that my electives are all non-fiction WORKSHOPS. Yes, workshops. Because in spite of all my complaints, I still think you learn by doing, at least I do, and even the workshop I'm in now IS getting better as we all get into our critique and writing (better) mode.

What on earth are "craft" classes? Are they not about doing...in this case writing?

And BTW can anyone tell me what a "typical" workshop story is?
People mention it as an easily recognizable "product" that emerges after the workshop process, but I'm still not sure what it looks like.
Thank you!


__________



Oct 30, 2006, 11:08 AM

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What on earth are "craft" classes? Are they not about doing...in this case writing?

I'd like to know, too. But from what I hear, they seem to be exercise based, and revolve around specific technical readings, say, modernist novels. I'm just stoked about any class that might address syntax, paragraphing, etc...actual writing.


And BTW can anyone tell me what a "typical" workshop story is?

Endlessly Googleable. Stories carried over from the Carver 80's: realist, preferably minimalist, plainly prosed, scant plot, 3-4 thousand words, emphasis on "character development", capped with a trite epiphany. Considers itself artsy, though really, what it is is mistake-free, more or less, syntax wise. Group-lens filtered. Most likely focused on some Other or another--Asians and Indians are big right now. First paragraph is generally good--because we all know it's the most important--then the quality drops. The ending merely ends. Makes you say, not Wow, but rather, Well, that wasn't too disagreeable.



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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Oct 30, 2006, 11:10 AM)


Windiciti



Oct 30, 2006, 11:27 AM

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Quote
Endlessly Googleable. Stories carried over from the Carver 80's: realist, preferably minimalist, plainly prosed, scant plot, 3-4 thousand words, emphasis on "character development", capped with a trite epiphany. Considers itself artsy, though really, what it is is mistake-free, more or less, syntax wise. Group-lens filtered. Most likely focused on some Other or another--Asians and Indians are big right now. First paragraph is generally good--because we all know it's the most important--then the quality drops. The ending merely ends. Makes you say, not Wow, but rather, Well, that wasn't too disagreeable.

Thank you, Junior Maas! I've never seen it put so plainly...

What does "endlessly Googeable" mean?

HMM...mine are generally under 3k words, not too wordy, have a plot, and almost mistake free, syntax-wise, because I AM a HS English teacher. Just now started writing about the OTHER (Latinos), have written ONE story set in Injah, and my first paragraphs are generally good!

However, I can't judge for myself whether my characters' epiphanies are trite, because although they are not "group lens filtered," they are filterd by MY experience or my own imagination.

Please tell me more! You are the first person who has given me anything I could understand when I asked this question aloud, though people mention these type of stories OFTEN on the forums.
Thank you!


laughingman


Oct 30, 2006, 11:39 AM

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Wow. Pretty solid summary (indictment?) of the "typical workshop story," I'd say. Anyone else care to weigh-in for or against "the typical" ? I'm copying this one, titling it "what not to do," and hanging it above my computer.


Quoting Junior Maas:

And BTW can anyone tell me what a "typical" workshop story is?

Endlessly Googleable. Stories carried over from the Carver 80's: realist, preferably minimalist, plainly prosed, scant plot, 3-4 thousand words, emphasis on "character development", capped with a trite epiphany. Considers itself artsy, though really, what it is is mistake-free, more or less, syntax wise. Group-lens filtered. Most likely focused on some Other or another--Asians and Indians are big right now. First paragraph is generally good--because we all know it's the most important--then the quality drops. The ending merely ends. Makes you say, not Wow, but rather, Well, that wasn't too disagreeable.



Clench Million
Charles

Oct 30, 2006, 1:00 PM

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Quote
My residential program is 50% of each. But frankly, I wish I'd applied to a 100% workshop type program!
However, I am going to make damn sure that my electives are all non-fiction WORKSHOPS. Yes, workshops. Because in spite of all my complaints, I still think you learn by doing, at least I do, and even the workshop I'm in now IS getting better as we all get into our critique and writing (better) mode.


I must say I'm a bit confused. Your residenitial program is 50% workshops?! I'd assume you normally take 4-5 classes a semester at a typical residential program, so you are taking 2-3 workshops? Or do you merely take 2 classes a semester? And there are residential programs that are 100% workshops!?

I can't imagine how that is sustainable, unless each workshop is so pointlessly large that you don't get to turn in more than once a semester. My workshop is, I think, a fairly typical size (9 students) and I am turning in 4 times. If I was taking two workshop I'd have to be turning in full first draft every two weeks. I wouldn't have any time for revision or non-workshop work.

I agree that workshops are good and you learn by doing, but how can you sustain more than one workshop without seeing a serious drop in the quality of the work the students are doing in an individual workshop? Even in my undergrad they highly discouraged anyone from taking 2 workshops (say fiction and poetry) because you wouldn't have enough time to really devote yourself to two.


Quote

What on earth are "craft" classes? Are they not about doing...in this case writing?


I think craft classes are just a broad term for any class (be it a large lecture or a small seminar) in an MFA program which is devoted to the study of the CRAFT of writing. Which is to say, as opposed to an english PhD class which would be an academic study of writing. Instead of analyzing The Trial from a post-feminist perspective or writing essays on bird imagery in the awakening, you are studying the methods the writer used to achieve x,y and z. Talking about what boundries this book is pressing instead or how it's form benefits it's content instead of how we can read the main character of Wuthering Heights as a homosexual or Frankenstein as an allegory of post-colonial struggles in some small island or another.

Junior Maas's
description of the typical MFA story is a perfectly true (and hilarious) although I think its become acceptable to be less minimialist these days. I'm definitly thankful I'm not in a program that revolves around such things. Has there even been a truly notable writer of that kind of story since Carver and Cheever? No wonder the short story is so neglected by the reading public these days....

Seriously, other than people who get a bit of hype for one book and fade away, the only peoole doing that kind of work that people talk about in the literary scene are this or that hip author of the new hip ethnicity for the season. Even those tend to fade out of memory pretty quickly. Seems to me all the notable story authors of the past twenty or so years (barry hannah, saunders, denis johnson, david foster wallace, lydia davis, murakami, etc.) have veered far away from it, yet it still totally dominates the MFA world.
Sigh.





__________



Oct 31, 2006, 1:56 AM

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For the love of God, please no one listen to me! I remind you, you guys are in the good programs--I'm just at bat. So remove that paper scrap from above your computer!

But as workshop stereotypes go, that's the best I can tell. The corollary to that, of course, is that nothing on that list makes anything bad, uninteresting, or workshop fiction. For instance, I dig Carver, Joyce had epiphanies, and I happen to love what people might call immigrant fiction. I've thought about this a lot lately, and as far as I can tell, the arguments against the workshop story are a little unfounded. Maybe the nugget of truth in all this is that, just starting out, we're more inclined to trust our favorite author's instincts over our own, write like they do, instead of like ourselves, which is just being hammered out at the moment. I could see that leading to competent, but 'uninspired', fiction.

Anyway, I know P&W's own 'Mingram' has convincingly addressed these issues in print:

http://www.storysouth.com/...004/shortshorts.html

http://www.storysouth.com/...er2005/mfaessay.html


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Windiciti



Oct 31, 2006, 8:35 PM

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I am only taking one class at a time! It's a 10 course program. Each course is $2170 and I am paying for it myself. I believe 3 courses wd. be considered a FULL load, but fortunately this is an evening program, aimed at working professionals, so no one takes more than 6 hours.

With subbing and taking care of senile dogs, aging parents, etc. and now trying to aim my best stuff to mags instead of competitions, I am quite busy.

I heard yesterday that they are trying to turn this MCW degree into an MFA, and I wd. really welcome this, even if I had to take more courses, Clench. I am trying to become a college teacher, since I am tired of high school teaching.

The Art Institute of Chicago is an MFA program that is ALL workshops. It is about $3000 a course, and of course, is much longer.


Clench Million
Charles

Nov 3, 2006, 2:00 PM

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Having smaller class requirements for working professonals makes total sense, of course, but I'm not sure what to think about an all workshop MFA.

How is that really an MFA? Merely because its at a university? If there isn't any requirements beyond a few workshops, why couldn't Gothem Writers Institute or any group like that just give out MFAs?


Windiciti



Nov 3, 2006, 2:17 PM

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I'm not really sure about all this, Clench.
Every program I applied to had a diffrernt percentage of workshop versus other courses.
I am also taking a workshop NEXT trimester, so I'm not sure how the other type of class will be.
If my program goes from an MCW---30 hours, 10 courses now---to an MFA, which they are considering.they are going to augment it to 15 or 20 courses. I will stay for the ride if they do!
As I said before, I am so keen to also write for consumer mags, that I am going to take the extra workshops for that.
And do a creative writing teaching practicum at MY university, which will be GREAT!


HopperFu


Nov 3, 2006, 2:58 PM

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In Reply To
...I'm not sure what to think about an all workshop MFA... How is that really an MFA? ....

This doesn't answer your question, but there are several MFA programs that are almost entirely workshop, though of course I can only think of one example: Iowa. Iowa is famous for only caring about workshops. You're welcome to take other classes, but the focus is completely on workshops.
Some programs lean really, really heavily the other way, and are closer to Ph.D. programs with an emphasis on literature than on writing.
That's actually a very important point to consider when choosing a school: what kind of a mixture you want in terms of emphasis on lit classes, craft classes, and workshops.


Clench Million
Charles

Nov 3, 2006, 3:52 PM

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Iowa is certainly focused on the workshop (as they should be, your work should be the central concern for any MFA), but they still require a minimum of 48 credit hours over 2 years, so at least half your credits will be coming from other types of classes (which i'd assume means at least 2/3rds of your actual classes).

I like workshops a lot am not looking down on them. I just find it odd to think you could take like 4 workshops and nothing else and then have an MFA degree. Seems to me there should be more to it than that (same for any kind of mfa).


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Nov 3, 2006, 3:55 PM)


HopperFu


Nov 3, 2006, 4:15 PM

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Actually, many of the Iowa people take more than one workshop a semester. A friend of mine took a standard workshop, a novella workshop, and yes, a third workshop during her first semester (which, she said, may have been workshop overkill).
None of which has anything to do with how I think MFA programs should actually be put together....


Clench Million
Charles

Nov 3, 2006, 4:24 PM

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Man, I think that is crazy. The workshops here are a size (and I think it is a pretty standard size) that allows for everyone to turn in a story 4 times. If I was taking three workshops I would literally be turning in a full draft of a story every single week. Is there anyone prolific enough to write a quality first draft a week? My non-workshop classes often have writing assignments, which is cool, but even that stretches my writing time pretty thin. Well maybe I"m just slow.


sibyline


Nov 3, 2006, 5:36 PM

Post #205 of 235 (3383 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I imagine that some people turn in the same work or a revised version of the same work for different workshops... I'm personally a one-workshop fan. I like taking classes in other fields because they broaden the philosophical foundation of my work.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 2:10 AM

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As I've told lots of new students at Bennington, you'll find the writing to be worse than you expected, with blinding exceptions.

This is my last residency, and god willing, my last workshop. Ever. I'm taking away a group of trusted, objective readers and that'll be my "workshop" from now on. At this point I'm totally cynical about the workshop method. I've heard too much that's been just plain wrong. In two of my four MFA workshops, teachers have caught me in the hall after my work has been up and said, I hope you're not going to take most of that advice, I tried to stop it. Imagine if they taught music or painting this way, with a bunch of other beginners telling you what to do. When people ask me why I'm so prejudiced in favor of low-residency programs, the first thing I say is, you get taught primarily by the people who know what they're doing. What a concept. My top advice to anyone going into an MFA is to listen carefully to the teachers, draw them out on your work, and run any advice you're taking from anyone else past them first. Not that they're always right, either, but their batting average is way higher than your classmates'.


I am bumping this thread, because your post resonates with me, and confirms what I've come to realize--a lot of workshop feedback from peers is harmful.

Specifically, what I've realized over the years is that work that takes chances with language and style is bound to have at least one or two harsh critics. You could turn in the first chapter of Lolita, and some moron who hasn't read anything other than Ray Carver stories will rip it to shreds.

I actually had a person in my last workshop (I'm a PhD student who takes w-shops with mostly MFA students) say that "once the language, voice, and style is stripped away, the narrative is pretty barren."

Well, duh--it was a voice driven piece; there are countless examples of stories and novels that are driven successfully by narrative voice, as opposed to traditional character and plot. Needless to say, I'm done with workshops after this semester. Forever.

I don't have an issue with harsh critique, but nothing is more annoying than harsh critiques by someone who isn't well read.

My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.


yeahyeahyeah


Oct 29, 2009, 5:39 AM

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In Reply To
As I've told lots of new students at Bennington, you'll find the writing to be worse than you expected, with blinding exceptions.

This is my last residency, and god willing, my last workshop. Ever. I'm taking away a group of trusted, objective readers and that'll be my "workshop" from now on. At this point I'm totally cynical about the workshop method. I've heard too much that's been just plain wrong. In two of my four MFA workshops, teachers have caught me in the hall after my work has been up and said, I hope you're not going to take most of that advice, I tried to stop it. Imagine if they taught music or painting this way, with a bunch of other beginners telling you what to do. When people ask me why I'm so prejudiced in favor of low-residency programs, the first thing I say is, you get taught primarily by the people who know what they're doing. What a concept. My top advice to anyone going into an MFA is to listen carefully to the teachers, draw them out on your work, and run any advice you're taking from anyone else past them first. Not that they're always right, either, but their batting average is way higher than your classmates'.


I am bumping this thread, because your post resonates with me, and confirms what I've come to realize--a lot of workshop feedback from peers is harmful.

Specifically, what I've realized over the years is that work that takes chances with language and style is bound to have at least one or two harsh critics. You could turn in the first chapter of Lolita, and some moron who hasn't read anything other than Ray Carver stories will rip it to shreds.

I actually had a person in my last workshop (I'm a PhD student who takes w-shops with mostly MFA students) say that "once the language, voice, and style is stripped away, the narrative is pretty barren."

Well, duh--it was a voice driven piece; there are countless examples of stories and novels that are driven successfully by narrative voice, as opposed to traditional character and plot. Needless to say, I'm done with workshops after this semester. Forever.

I don't have an issue with harsh critique, but nothing is more annoying than harsh critiques by someone who isn't well read.

My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.



I'm sorry your workshop experience has been frustrating. But isn't that the fault of your cohort? Or it could be that you're not as good a writer as you think. It's hard to be objective about your own writing. Either way, there's no such thing as a perfect workshop and I don't think anyone should pursue an MFA just to get workshopped. Yeah, it sucks when people don't get you, but really, we're all our own writers and we should write whatever we want regardless of the feedback. I've been taking workshops for almost a decade so it's possible I'm jaded.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Oct 29, 2009, 9:46 AM

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Re: [yeahyeahyeah] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow. Talk about a thread coming back from the dead.

Could it be that I'm not as good a writer as I think? Maybe, but that has nothing to do with my feelings about workshops. Not all the bad advice I've gotten in workshop has been negative. Probably if I believed everything I ever heard in a workshop my head would be bigger, not smaller. I've just found that workshops tend to produce fiction by committee rather than encouraging what's individual in the work. It takes a skilled eye to know what's distinctive in a piece and what's just not working. That eye is usually the teacher's eye, not a fellow student's. If I could say one positive thing about workshops at Bennington, it's that each workshop has two teachers, not one. And when the teachers get to discussing your work between them and over the students' heads, agreeing and disagreeing, that's when you really get a "workshop."

With some distance now from the program, I feel like workshops had some benefit by subjecting the work to classmates whose reaction would be more like that of a typical reader rather than a professional writer. But still, those classmates are reading as at least aspiring writers. Writing now strictly for publication, what I'd really cherish is a workshop with great readers who don't write at all, who just love and buy books.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 10:18 AM

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In Reply To

I'm sorry your workshop experience has been frustrating. But isn't that the fault of your cohort? Or it could be that you're not as good a writer as you think. It's hard to be objective about your own writing.


Well, most of my the work I write now is eventually accepted by national magazines, so I think I have an idea that my work is decent.

My point, though, is that it's often annoying when people impose an aesthetic on someone else's work; there's a difference between telling Marquez that he needs more John Cheever in "An Old Man With Enormous Wings," which would be really stupid, and giving him suggestions that actually fit his work.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 11:32 AM

Post #210 of 235 (3112 views)
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*Most of the work


yeahyeahyeah


Oct 29, 2009, 5:37 PM

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Well, most of my the work I write now is eventually accepted by national magazines, so I think I have an idea that my work is decent.

My point, though, is that it's often annoying when people impose an aesthetic on someone else's work; there's a difference between telling Marquez that he needs more John Cheever in "An Old Man With Enormous Wings," which would be really stupid, and giving him suggestions that actually fit his work.



Okay, I think I get it now. Wiswriter's objection is to the workshop model. Your objection is to your cohort. Is that about right? Both of you make good points.

But that Marquez thing, he never did an MFA or get workshopped and he's still a better writer than most of us will ever be. And if someone ever told him to put in more Cheever, I bet he'd still write whatever the hell he wanted. And that was my original point.

Workshops aren't just a way for us to get feedback on our stuff. Most of the semester is spent workshopping other people. And that's the part that I really enjoy. To say that you are never going to take a workshop again because you're annoyed by harsh critiques from someone who isn't well read is a bit selfish. And I don't fault that. It's your life and your time. But as you said, most of your stuff eventually gets published anyway. Plus you already have an MFA and you were good enough to get into a PhD program and it sounds like the MFA kids in this program are weak so I would think you could teach these kids a thing or two. You can be someone's great workshopper. You can be an asset in whatever workshop you're in. But if you'd rather not waste your time, that's your call.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 5:52 PM

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Okay, I think I get it now. Wiswriter's objection is to the workshop model. Your objection is to your cohort. Is that about right? Both of you make good points.


I thought I was clear in my post that I have been in workshops for many years, and have reached this realization after spending many years in workshops. I've been in workshops at three different universities since 1998.


In Reply To
But that Marquez thing, he never did an MFA or get workshopped and he's still a better writer than most of us will ever be. And if someone ever told him to put in more Cheever, I bet he'd still write whatever the hell he wanted. And that was my original point.


I'm not sure I understand your point--I never said that I would stop writing the way I want to write; I was making an observation about workshops.


In Reply To
Workshops aren't just a way for us to get feedback on our stuff. Most of the semester is spent workshopping other people. And that's the part that I really enjoy. To say that you are never going to take a workshop again because you're annoyed by harsh critiques from someone who isn't well read is a bit selfish. And I don't fault that. It's your life and your time. But as you said, most of your stuff eventually gets published anyway. Plus you already have an MFA and you were good enough to get into a PhD program and it sounds like the MFA kids in this program are weak so I would think you could teach these kids a thing or two. You can be someone's great workshopper. You can be an asset in whatever workshop you're in. But if you'd rather not waste your time, that's your call.


Um, okay.

For the record, in my example, I said it was one person...I never said that it was my entire cohort. I was using this one example to illustrate a larger point that I've noticed over the years--stories that are language driven are more likely to draw a hostile reaction than any other type of story. In fact, in many workshops, people look at you like you're crazy if you dare mention style or language.


v1ctorya


Nov 7, 2009, 9:24 PM

Post #213 of 235 (2923 views)
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My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.


People should heed that advice. I was also told to ignore most of my classmates in workshop. The good you get out of it is critiquing others, seeing what they're writing, what works and what doesn't, and the actual writing of your own work but their opinions are just that, opinions. My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack. Know who you are as a writer going into the room so you can ignore what needs to be ignored. (note, not all needs to be ignored, but a high portion probably should be)


gcsumfa


Nov 7, 2009, 10:32 PM

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My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack.


This is so true. Flannery O'Connor could submit a story to almost any workshop, and most of the workshoppers would comment on her "flat" characters--"they're not 'three-dimensional' enough....and what's with the names--I don't know any one in 'real life' named The Misfit.' "

Sigh


v1ctorya


Nov 8, 2009, 12:29 AM

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In Reply To
My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack.


This is so true. Flannery O'Connor could submit a story to almost any workshop, and most of the workshoppers would comment on her "flat" characters--"they're not 'three-dimensional' enough....and what's with the names--I don't know any one in 'real life' named The Misfit.' "

Sigh



Actually, she was used as an example of someone who's works wouldn't fly in workshops because of the sense of discovery, "it doesn't feel like it was planned out in advance" and that's another issue - the loss of discovery in writing when something is overly workshopped. IF the writer is discovering things, so will the reader.


__________



Nov 8, 2009, 7:32 AM

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Re: [v1ctorya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Is it time to reinvest in the workshop when the stock is low?

It's so hard to talk about things like 'humor' and 'voice' and so forth. Or too easy. (What? Workshoppers hate humor? BAAAANISH THEM!!!). I mean, let's face it. The guy you're letting off the hook is pretty much always you. And when does that make for good writing? I guess if all your stuff's being published, it's hard to argue. But for the average workshopper, who knows.

The only thing that worked for me was critiquing those who shared my favorite author. That was so terrible and enlightening. At a certain point, the blinders start to fall away, and you realize you're pretty much critiquing yourself. Just...honestly this time. Then it's not a matter of seeing yourself as Flannery O'Connor (or whoever) but maybe really just a fan of O'Connor, reaching for the same notes (not The Misfit, The Oddball!) but sounding all loud and hollow instead.

I think workshops could be great...I just wish they were like my college dorm. You fill out those little index cards beforehand -- favorite writers, likes, dislikes -- and then what's your excuse? Yeah, well, you guys can suck it. Buncha dirty Carver minimalists! Wah, wah, I got cancer, I got divorced. I live in New England. Oh...wait. What? Coover? Vollmann? Oh...oh damns.

Or something.

If there is such a thing, sign me up...


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Nov 8, 2009, 7:37 AM)


WanderingTree


Nov 8, 2009, 12:31 PM

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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Junior mass brings up a good point about the importance of finding your literary kindred spirits in workshops/programs and even life in general. Yeah, we all learn from critiquing others and from reading but when it comes to hearing comments on our own writing (esp. if it is markedly different from traditional realist stuff) sometimes the most useful voices are going to be cast from the same or similar molds. Of course, ideally it really shouldn't matter if we all read a lot and appreciate different forms but I'd suspect a lot of people across the table from you are what some folks would refer to as the "McSweeney's Generation" - all talk and little read.


BLUECHEESE


Nov 8, 2009, 2:07 PM

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That's silly. People just appropriate texts in different ways. I'm a proud non-reader. I don't sit above things and read in some neo-Cartesian mode. I flesh into text.


klondike


Nov 8, 2009, 2:42 PM

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A non-reader? Seriously? Am I misunderstanding your post? You don't read books?


ericweinstein
Eric Weinstein


Nov 8, 2009, 2:55 PM

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All right there, Kanye.


Hans Landa: You'll be shot for this!
Aldo Raine: Nah, I don't think so. More like chewed out. I've been chewed out before.


jacarty
Jessie Carty
e-mail user

Nov 10, 2009, 11:13 AM

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Re: [WanderingTree] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

i agree that a big part of workshop, for me, is finding readers i connect with.

i think it would be a fun project to secretly bring in a prize winning story or poem to workshop and see what the students do :)


http://jessiecarty.com


WanderingTree


Nov 10, 2009, 12:05 PM

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Give a prize winning Carver-like story to an experimental cohort and some tripped out experimental prize winning story to a traditional cohort ; - ) I'm sure there would be people that recognize the brilliance in both cases, but I'm also certain it would get torn to pieces by just as many people. Remember the Doris Lessing experiment? She was rejected by her own publisher!


jlgwriter
Jeanne Lyet Gassman
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Nov 10, 2009, 12:12 PM

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There is a fallacy to this approach: If the members of the workshop are well-read, someone will recognize the story and/or the author. Stories submitted to workshops seldom have the polish of published work.

Jeanne
http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com
http://jeannelyetgassman.blogspot.com


http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com
http://jeannelyetgassman.blogspot.com


__________



Nov 10, 2009, 12:19 PM

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Re: [WanderingTree] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

What was the Doris Lessing experiment? YOU MUST TELL ME!

Yeah, I just can't see any workshop ripping Carver to shreds on stylistic grounds. He's obviously a big talent...

But who knows. Once, a friend pronounced my latest passage 'wildly overblown!', so I e-mailed him this page from King, Queen, Knave, a book we'd just finished. Same thing. "Too busy! You really ought to cut this back...you big show-off."

Urg!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Nov 10, 2009, 12:20 PM)


Woon


Nov 10, 2009, 1:11 PM

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This must be the Doris Lessing experiment:

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/archive/permalink/jane_somers_aka_doris_lessing/


belgium


Nov 10, 2009, 3:40 PM

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Last year, as an experiment, our workshop instructor had us workshop an "anonymous" story. A few of us recognized it, but most had never seen it before and the story didn't fare too well. Had I been the author, I would have slunk out of the workshop feeling like the stupidest person alive.

The story, um, had been written by a very well respected writer and had appeared The New Yorker a few months prior. I'm not saying that the NYorker is the touchstone of brilliance, but they've been known to have pretty good editorial instincts from time to time.

But what this showed was that a workshop can find fault in just about anything you give them-- because that's the job of workshop participants: to snuff out ways that a writer can improve a story. Only a bad workshop exists as a validation tool.



Ridiculous Words

(This post was edited by belgium on Nov 10, 2009, 3:44 PM)


spamela


Nov 10, 2009, 4:05 PM

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That's one of the problems with the traditional workshop I think--the idea that we're all there to "fix" something. This implies that something about the story is already broken or wrong. This can become especially problematic when people turn in polished, finished pieces, which I see happening a lot too. Not only do I dislike the whole fixing idea as an underlying workshop paradigm, but I think people who turn in finished pieces to workshop for whatever reason (to impress the instructor and cohort, because they didn't have time to write something new, etc.) are sort of wasting time as well. I had a workshop many years ago with a writer who turned in a piece that had already been published. What did she want us to say about it? In her mind, she was done with that particular story (and said as much. I have known people to keep working on/expanding pieces that have already been published but that's not what was happening here). Anyway, even if a workshop piece is a draft (and not already of publishable quality), I still think that viewing it as something that we can collectively fix is kind of weird.


__________



Nov 10, 2009, 5:31 PM

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Re: [spamela] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Really? My biggest complaint about workshops was the lack of fixing going on. Not so much the tendency to view each story as fundamentally broken, but the way the brokenness was always viewed at the thematic level. Style, for whatever reason, kind of seemed off limits.

The most helpful thing I could have imagined would have been our teacher putting each story up on the projector, pretending he'd woke up hung over and found it and must now set out to fix it. Would've learned much more about mechanics that way then, Gee, would Bob really have been motivated to cross the street by that remark? and, Maybe this should have aliens!.

Poetry workshops were great, though. Not only did you get into the mechanics, there were also times when people would just look at something and say, Don't touch it, it's done!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Nov 10, 2009, 5:34 PM)


OldScribe2000


Nov 10, 2009, 6:46 PM

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How can you not "fare well" when it comes down to handing over an opinion of a work, no matter its origins?

Years ago, I studied under a teaching assistant who has since evolved into a top-notch published poet and MFA instructor. She would hand out photocopies of essays, stories and poems she enjoyed and wanted to teach. When I studied these facsimiles, I saw there were markings, notes in the margins, that she'd attempted to erase on the originals before she ran copies. I looked closely and saw they were the kinds of notations an editor would make. She was editing top-rate published material! No wonder she ended up publishing 4-5 books and stacked a long list of awards.

And, of course, we've all read material that's been revised and republished. Tobias Wolff just published a short story collection of "Greatest Hits." Read his explanation in the foreword of that book.


VickiH
Vicki Hudson


Nov 20, 2012, 3:27 PM

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I found workshop critique in my program less than helpful often due to many of my peers did not have effective critique skills and the program did not do much to train students in critique skills. I had a fortunate background from a writing group I'd been in that gave me skills and a definite mindset about always respect the author and the work. I have found this missing in many of the schools of thought on the methods used in workshop. So much so that I published a book on writing groups and critique which would be helpful for MFA students or anyone looking for effective writing groups. The book is a free download everywhere except on Amazon of course where both the Ebook and print version are sold. (Only because Amazon won't let authors do free unless restricted to only on Amazon and no other markets.) Tools for how to critique in a way that respects the writer and the work, even when providing the difficult feedback is the essence of the book. The book is titled No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique by Victoria A. Hudson and is a free Ebook found in most ebook venues.




Vicki Hudson
http://vickihudson.com/
T/@vickigeist and @vicki_hudson


(This post was edited by drayke on Nov 20, 2012, 3:31 PM)


dahosek
D. A. Hosek
e-mail user

Nov 28, 2012, 5:52 PM

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I always keep this article in mind when I'm dealing with workshop critiques: http://www.glimmertrain.com/fmjan09.html A short version would be: workshop is not about getting feedback on your work, it's about learning how to read work critically to be able to then apply those skills to your own writing. I know that in the last round of workshops for my MFA program, I gave a lot more to the other writers than they gave to me in terms of critique (I think that they probably got more from me than from the instructor, based on his feedback on my work).
-dh


http://dahosek.com


alamana
Jennifer Brown


Nov 28, 2012, 7:48 PM

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In Reply To
A short version would be: workshop is not about getting feedback on your work, it's about learning how to read work critically to be able to then apply those skills to your own writing.


Yes! Well said!


Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work. -- Flaubert

http://www.jenniferkirkpatrickbrown.com


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Nov 28, 2012, 9:23 PM

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I think -- I hope -- that at a certain point it is about getting feedback. My poetry group is made up of pretty accomplished poets, most of whom don't need to learn much about critical reading. But their notes do help me improve my work.

Maybe it's just meant to refer to MFA workshops, in which case I agree completely.


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


alamana
Jennifer Brown


Nov 29, 2012, 7:18 AM

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In Reply To
I think -- I hope -- that at a certain point it is about getting feedback. My poetry group is made up of pretty accomplished poets, most of whom don't need to learn much about critical reading. But their notes do help me improve my work.

Maybe it's just meant to refer to MFA workshops, in which case I agree completely.


Yes, I was just thinking about MFA workshops with the above. I've gotten useful feedback--and expected it--in other settings. (And, I might add, that in MFA workshops I always received very, very helpful feedback from the professors).


Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work. -- Flaubert

http://www.jenniferkirkpatrickbrown.com


maida


Nov 29, 2012, 11:58 AM

Post #235 of 235 (2087 views)
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When I was in my MFA program, I told a teacher that I was getting some radical feedback on a story from my classmates that I wasn't finding helpful. He said, "The feedback on your story isn't for your benefit, it's for theirs." I know this is definitely true for me when I give feedback. Regardless of whether or not the feedback helps the writer with her own work, it always helps me with mine.

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